Waterhouse is probably most well known for his many paintings of women. On his canvases he brought to life such famous women as The Lady of Shallot and Circe. He also painted Nymphs and Mermaids, most famously this portrait of Mermaid. Waterhouse painted with a Pre-Raphaelite sense of realism, enabling him to create settings of convincing truthfulness. This can be seen in the setting of Mermaid which looks realistic enough despite the fantasy figure of the mermaid sitting combing her very long hair. Waterhouse also had a classical ideal of beauty, which can clearly be seen by the way he has depicted the mermaid, with her very even features.
What is most alluring about this painting is the magical feeling it seems to give off. It is reminiscent of fairy tales and fantasy stories. She appears to be so like a real woman that we are almost tricked into believing that she is just that and not a half woman- half fish. The upper half of her body is so beautiful and so natural looking that it is a little bit of a shock to notice her fish tale, shimmering slightly, hardly noticeable but still very much present. The water and rocks surrounding her also give off a distinctly fairy tale feeling. In the painting it appears as if she is staring not at us, but just around us like she is trying to look far out into the distance or to see around a rock. It adds a sense of urgency to the otherwise almost domestic feel of the painting. Although she is just combing her hair it is as if she is very aware that at any moment she may be seen and must keep her guard up. At the same time though I have the feeling that she is almost wishing someone would come along. She is truly in her element, sitting on a rock, half of her floating in the water. She has an almost challenging expression on her face as if just daring anyone to suggest she doesn’t exist.
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