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John William Waterhouse

JWWMontrealI spent last week in Montréal. I see that while I was away my Robert Altman Journal entry recieved some attention (sorry, Altman fans; I call ’em as I see ’em). I wrote a response to the flurry of comments you might want to check out. It includes a peek into part of the process of filmmaking.

My wife and I flew to Montréal to see the exhibition “John William Waterhouse–The Garden of Enchantment,” the largest assemblage of Waterhouse paintings in history, at Montréal’s Musée des Beaux Arts.

Waterhouse is one of my favorite painters of all time. He had an outstanding sense of design and a brilliant sense of color. I find the features of his men and women to be both beautiful and timeless. The erotic qualities of his women (particularly in “Hylas and The Nymphs” and “La Belle Dame Sans Mercie”) are almost palpable. For me, his work is the perfect combination of tight and loose painting, well-informed by his plein aire studies.

Among many, many others, the exhibition includes the two paintings of his I have on my bedroom walls as prints: “The Lady of Shalott” and “Circe Invidiosa.”

Until this exhibition, the only Waterhouse original I had ever seen was “The Lady of Shalott” (at the Tate Gallery in London). That was way back around 1970.

The presentation of the paintings is superb and unique to Montréal (the exhibition went to only three museums; Montréal is the last venue. It was supposed to come to the USA but the museum that was going to host the show failed to come up with the money to do so. Although the Montréal version of the show did not include another favorite of mine, “Hylas and The Nymphs,” I believe that Montréal is displaying more Waterhouse works than the other two venues did). The walls that display the paintings are solid black. Some are draped with solid black ivy. His largest painting is draped above and on the sides with copious amounts of luxuriant black velvet drapery. There are the patterns and shadows of ivy on the floors, as well as water effects on one floor.

“Out of Our Minds,” a 28 minute film by Melissa Auf Der Maur (bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins) and Tony Stone that was inspired by Waterhouse’s work is included as part of the exhibition. Auf Der Maur is in the film and she composed the film’s music.

We stayed at a wonderful (and reasonably priced) well-located hotel, the Chateau de L’Argoat. The restaurants (or restos, as they’re called in Montréal) we dined at were all superb, except for Le Taj, a highly touted but mediocre Indian restaurant. I was hoping for the kind of Indian food one gets in London, but the lack of rich, spicy flavor and heat reminded me that we were still in part of our continent’s Midwest. Nice live Indian drummer playing in the background, though. And every restaurant with any kind of French influence had cuisine that was fantastic. It was easy to dine well both cheaply and expensively. The famously polite and friendly Canadian people surpassed their well-earned reputation with their warm hospitality in our regard.

The architecture throughout many parts of Montréal was enchanting, especially in the old part of Montréal which seemed very European with its cobblestone streets.

My wife and I walked to the Drawn & Quarterly shop (they’re based in Montréal), which is a gem. Sadly, I learned that the cartoonist Seth was going to be speaking there two days after our departure. My son Andy said his talk at this year’s Comic-Con was highly entertaining. I love his comics, his taste and his brilliant sense of design.

The Waterhouse show runs until February 7, 2010. Don’t miss it! If you’d like to see a variety of his paintings, just Google “Waterhouse” and select “Images.”

5 thoughts on “John William Waterhouse

  1. Hello Bill!

    I hope all is well with you.

    I reameber you telling me about the Waterhouse exhibition when we where at Dragoncon in Atlanta. It sounds like a wonderful experience, His paintings are exquisite! Not only are the men and women he paints very beautiful but they are captivating and timeless, as you said. I can’t say enough about his work.

    Very best wishes


  2. Hi Rebekah,
    Great to hear from you! I hope your art is going well.

    One of the reasons I hope that you can eventually model for me once you’re out here is that you strongly remind me of Waterhouse’s favorite model, the one he used for all of the nymphs in “Hylas and the Nymphs.” Like her, I find your beauty is timeless, with a combination of innocence and mystery. I can tell Waterhouse loved that; she provided his perfect foil for portraying the femme fatale with the deceptively benign but ultimately tragically enchanting appearance. This is a theme that ran through the majority of his most successful and well known paintings.

  3. Hi Bill-
    We’ve not met before I don’t think-I’m a longtime fan of beautiful your work though!
    Really happy to get your impressions of the Waterhouse exhibition ( saw the link through James Gurney’s blog), good tips on the hotel and cafe’s too!
    Waterhouse is a huge influence for me and I’m just dying to see the show!
    I hope our paths cross sometime at some show in the future.
    Rebecca Guay

  4. Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for your post! Be careful; I recommended NOT going to that Indian restaurant. Here are a few I do indeed recommend:
    • La Paryse (best burger in Montréal: 302 rue Ontario est; 842-2040). Just a couple blocks from the hotel I recommended. Their fries (something I usually don’t eat) are delicious, too, as is their carrot cake.
    • Nocochi (Good lite fare 1 block from the Museum; 2156 rue MacKay @ Sherbrooke;
    989-7514). Chic decor, wonderful staff, incredible sandwiches for very reasonable prices.
    • Chez l’Espicier (311 rue St. Paul Est; 878-2232). High end, price-wise (about $100 for dinner for two), but the food is unique and unforgettable and the service is great.
    • Pintxo (Tapas; 256 rue Roy Est; 2 blocks from St. Denis; 844-0222). The appetizer tapas were better than the restaurant’s main courses. Just order appetizers until you’re full.

    My friends know what a foodie I am (I enjoy both high end cuisine and great roadside joints), so you can take these recommendations seriously.

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