His infamous reign was characterized by tyranny, political murders, and extravagance. Waterhouse made this painting of Emperor Nero during his period of self-reflection. In the portrait, a man depicted as the Emperor is seen sleeping in a room. He lies on a well-detailed embroidery bedding. Both his hands are stretched out to hold his head as if it somehow has unimaginable weight. This gesture shows despair or disillusion. His brows are arched and wrinkled, and he seems to have been weeping. His sad and swollen eyes depict this. Nero’s hair is shaggy and unkempt, an indication that he has lost concern for quite a number of things at this time, including personal hygiene.
At the time of this illustration, Nero had become the Emperor after his adopted father’s death. He was helped in his reign by his mother. However, five years into his reign, Nero ordered the killing of his mother Agrippa because he believed his mother was secretly plotting to kill him. He also killed his first wife, Octavia, and the second one, Sabina. The injustices of Nero are what inspired Waterhouse to draw this particular piece. The shades of yellow in the photo and hues of orange worn by the Emperor represent royalty. Beside his bed, there is something gold-like set on a table. Mythical stories portray gold as a colour to the journey to the afterlife. Its appearance in the image could imply that Nero could have been contemplating his death.
The portrait has successfully shown the regret felt by Nero for his actions. Instead of the Emperor portraying feelings of excitement and achievement, he seems to be at his lowest moments. The common belief that an empire is just about glory has been debunked by this description. Waterhouse took inspiration from both classical painters and pre-Raphaelite and strived to create beauty and realism in his work. His work location was London and Rome. After his death, his art pieces were displayed in several British art galleries. Amongst his other notable pieces are The Lady of Shallot, The Magic Circle, A Mermaid, and Hylas and the Nymphs. The portrait is currently in a private collection.