One immediately recognises this painting as capturing the famous tale of Pandora opening her box. Artist Waterhouse adds little else to this scene other than some trees in the background which help to create the particular atmosphere in which this young lady carefully opens this beautifully crafted box. Behind her is a small pond which trickles down to her level, suggesting a tranquil setting without any other distractions. The artist wanted to ensure that the viewer's eye was also not distracted from the main subject of the painting. The model is particularly pale-skinned, as with most Waterhouse muses, and this gives an impression of purity and vulnerability.
John William Waterhouse was certainly not the only artist to make use of Pandora's Box as inspiration for their work. Even just looking at artists closely related to Waterhouse, we can immediately find several artworks from the likes of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, with a beautiful watercolour of Pandora from 1881 and also a more famous oil painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1871. The story itself comes from Greek mythology, dating it many thousands of years ago. It spoke, actually, of a large jar used for storage, and it was only mis-translations that created this idea of Pandora's box, that originally came directly from Pandora in Hesiod's Works and Days.
The tale has now become a common turn of phrase, meaning the opening and release of potential troubles, which are perhaps hard to judge of their danger before they have been set free. There is also a feeling that returning them to whence they came would also be a particularly arduous task. "Don't open Pandora's box," some would say in order to warn against such an action. In this example the artist gives the biggest focus to Pandora herself, whilst other interpretations have placed more of a focus on the box itself, perhaps even going into detail on what could be found inside.