When we compare this study drawings and the later painting, we find a very similar composition, though the alternative mediums used ensure a very different finish. The main painting was produced in layered oils which would have taken far longer to put together and also is much more precise in terms of detail. This wash version is looser and more relaxed, perhaps put together in a very short space of time as the artist attempted to plan out the layout of the painting but without spending too much time on this preparatory piece. We have included a larger image of the work at the bottom of the page in order to display as much detail as possible, but the forms were simplistic here, with no real facial features and a very different, darker atmosphere to that found in the main oil version that followed shortly afterwards.

This artwork is known as a recto, which is a term used to describe a double sided canvas or paper, where different creations can be found on both sides. They will normally be study sketches, where the artist is simply making as much use of their resources as possible, and also has no interest in presenting these items to anyone else. The item on the other side is always known as the verso, and this method was particularly common within the Italian Renaissance where many of the great masters would practice their technical skills to almost obsessive levels and presumably paper was not as easy to source as it is today. There is another artwork on the back of this study and it follows a similar period theme but there are no later paintings that it might have been used for. The owners, Tate, have photographed and discussed both of these artworks so that they can be viewed online for those unable to see them in person within their prints and drawings section (prior appointments required).

Waterhouse was trained academically by some significant establishments which ensured strong abilities across a number of different mediums. Drawing would provide the base to all of his work, helping him to plan out compositions as well as perfect his portraiture which was a key genre within his career. At the time of his Consulting the Oracle, the artist was still some way from perfecting the signature style for which he would become most famous, but he was already displaying impressive technical qualities which would set him on the right course. The style of the architecture and fashion which becomes more apparent in the oil painting feels Middle Eastern in style and many exotic cultures have inspired Western artists, with the 19th century being the first time when different cultures were starting to combine on a mass scale within the art world.

Recto Study for Consulting the Oracle in Detail John William Waterhouse