Vanity by John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917. Signed 'J. W. Waterhouse'. Oil on canvas: 26 x 27 inches, 66 x 68.6 centimetres. Exhibited: Liverpool; London, Royal Academy, 1922, Winter Exhibition. Works by Recently Deceased Members of the Royal Academy, number 225, lent by the artist's widow.

Provenance: The Artist's studio sale, Christie's 23 July 1926, lot 48; Sampson, bought at the above sale; his sale, Christie's 4 April 1930, lot 177; Jay, bought from the above.

Commentary by Hilary Morgan

The image of Vanity, a beautiful woman admiring herself in a mirror, is found in European Art froin the time of the middle ages. It is an ambiguous image because the spectator is invited both to admire and to disapprove. In this haunting picture, Waterhouse surely intends admiration to be paramount. The picture reinterprets such paintings as Titians 'The Toilet' (Louvre) and Rossetti's 'Lady Lilith' (Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington) with a new sense of immediacy. On looking at it, the first impression is not of its place in an artistic tradition, but the spontaneity and naturalness of the woman's gesture.


Baldry, Alfred Lys. The Late J. W. Waterhouse RA, Studio. Volume LXXI. 1917.

Hobson, Anthony. John William Waterhouse. Oxford: Phaidon, 1989. Plate 5.

Morgan, Hilary and Nahum, Peter. Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 163.

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Last modified 1 August 2006