Here we find a young female model posing with her arms in the air. She stares off into the distance from a side profile and her long hair hangs down to cover the full length of the drawing. Her outfit is delicate and feminine, typical of how Waterhouse liked to picture his female figures. He always chose pale skinned, very slim models from a certain age group for his work and would re-use his favourite ones many times. Some would criticise him for not challenging himself with other shapes and sizes but he liked to stick to this consistent look which also best captured the image of innocence and purity. It led to the term of Waterhouse-esque models which referred specifically to this very particular look, but it also persisted throughout the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and so Waterhouse was not alone in that regard. This group of British artists would take inspiration from poetry and literature in order to provide an alternative to the more contemporary styles of the late 19th century and built up a strong following.

Waterhouse was himself, of course, classically trained and most technical studies would always start with drawing as a base from which anything else can then come afterwards. One can immediately tell from these Waterhouse drawings about how he had gone through rigorous academic training from an early age in order to produce such lifelike depictions using only a few pieces of chalk. Portraiture was very much his main interest, and within the drawing medium he would tend to focus on single figures rather than over complicating his compositions. For large scale oil paintings he would therefore produce multiple studies to cover each figure, and then commence the main work once he was content and confident in how the final piece would look. Flora, as shown here, was completed on buff paper and the artist himself would regularly make use of sketchbooks to keep his drawings organised and protected, though most were later separated and sold off privately.

This drawing was completed as a study for Waterhouse's Flora and the Zephyrs, a painting which would be first displayed at the Royal Academy in 1898. That painting would be purchased by collector George McCulloch who was already well known to the artist, though most of Waterhouse's drawings would simply remain within his own property until his death. It is believed that the vast majority of his study drawings were portraits, as he understood that this challenging genre would always play a key role in the success of each final painting, essentially deciding its fate. He was also very clear in his mind about the type of mood that his figures should display, and so wanted to plan this element in detail. We do know that it was actually Sandro Botticelli's Allegory of Spring (Primavera) that inspired the final painting, and comparisons can certainly be drawn between the two artists in terms of how they produced female portraits, even though there were many centuries that passed between their respective careers.

Flora in Detail John William Waterhouse