The painting in front of us here makes use of quick strokes of oil, leaving many areas of the canvas devoid of precise detail. The background is particularly rough, with individual brushstrokes still apparent and no real effort was made to merge these into something more pleasing to the eye. The artist is simply trying out ideas for a later piece, and had no intention at that time for this particular piece to be displayed in public, and certainly not sold at auction as would later be the case. It is Medea that Waterhouse specifically concentrates on in this example, and the artist removed almost all other detail from what would be included in the later artwork. He concentrates on the female figure and the positioning of her right hand which plays a key role in the overall work. She is actually creating a potion, as the tale would explain, though you would not be able to determine that from this reduced-detail study piece.
The story of Jason and Medea came from Greek mythology and Waterhouse would find plenty of inspiration from the many items of literature that he studied from this period. He would also later on make use of more recent British poetry and the two different themes would lay the foundations to a large proportion of his work. Lady of Shalott and Hylas and the Nymphs would become two of the finest examples from his career, though in total there were more than one hundred oil paintings to appreciate, most of which continued the artist's fascination with the female body as well as the various characters and themes from the two different periods of literature. This would also be used by a number of other British artists too, with female portraits being found many times within their respective oeuvres as well.
The depiction of young, slim women has of course persisted throughout art history since before any of us can even remember. Another good example of this would be from the career of Czech painter, Alphonse Mucha. He featured all manner of different content across his career but he would become most famous for his cafe posters that advertised various products and events within the city of Paris. Some memorable contributions from him included the likes of Amants, Bieres de la Meuse and Gismonda. He was more of an illustrator than a painter in terms of these works, but also provided other variations of work elsewhere in his career. He celebrated the female figure in order to sell items through these posters and eventually built up a long list of clients who were keen to acquire his services. At this stage in western society the printed form of advertising was perhaps at its most powerful.