The combination of young maidens surrounded by fields of flowers was just the level of feminine innocence that persists throughout this artist's career and he would always practice his portraits several times over prior to starting his major oil interpretations. He drew in chalk, pencil and charcoal at different times in his career, with each one boasting advantages, depending on his needs at the time. He left behind several hundred drawings by the time of his passing in the early 20th century and these were sold off in groups by his wife. In recent years some of these items have started to resurface, as the owners look to cash in on the current fashion for Pre-Raphaelite art, as well as a number of artists such as Waterhouse who worked closely on the fringes of this group. He arrived a generation later and so was not a part of the group officially, but his style was that similar that the connections are impossible to avoid.
The item in front of us here was completed in red chalk over pencil, two mediums that the artist used regularly but rarely in combination. This does allow a beautiful blend to be found here, with some subtle lines of pencil combined with a firmer, clearer use of chalk, thus delivering a feeling of depth to the finished piece. The model has her hair tidied behind her head, just as Waterhouse normally requested, and she looks out directly to our left with a stare that is focused and unrelenting. The portrait only goes down to her shoulders as Waterhouse was clearly concentrating on her facial features as the main purpose of this practice piece. She boasts a strong jawline which appears in several notable artworks from the Pre-Raphaelites but her lips are distinctly softer. One can imagine this model working for Waterhouse in a number of projects as she fits his general look as found throughout his more famous paintings, such as The Soul of the Rose, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott and Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus.
There was a contrast between the drawing and painting style of John William Waterhouse. The former succeeded through simplicity, as he worked from a basic but beautiful level and allowed his technical skills to speak entirely for themselves. His paintings, however, were infinitely more involved and perhaps that explains why he would put in so much preparation prior to starting each one. He specialised in portraiture, though not in the formal sense, and so felt he needed constant practice in order to master this challenging genre, just as the old masters of the Renaissance had done. Waterhouse was also trained in highly academic surroundings, ensuring a rigorous education which would have started with drawing before any other mediums were even mentioned. Many academics would study his drawings at the time in order to learn from his techniques but today most of them are dispersed and undocumented, which makes it hard to collate his contribution as a draughtsman.