Born in Rome to English parents who were both painters, Waterhouse later moved to London, where he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art. He soon began exhibiting at their annual summer exhibitions, focusing on the creation of large canvas works depicting scenes from the daily life and mythology of ancient Greece. Many of his paintings are based on authors such as Homer, Ovid, Shakespeare, Tennyson, or Keats.
Waterhouse’s work is currently displayed at several major British art galleries, and the Royal Academy of Art organised a major retrospective of his work in 2009.
Waterhouse was born in the city of Rome to the English painters William and Isabella Waterhouse in 1849, in the same year that the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, were first causing a stir in the London art scene. The exact date of his birth is unknown, though he was baptised on 6 April, and the later scholar of Waterhouse’s work, Peter Trippi, believed that he was born between 1 and 23 January. His early life in Italy has been cited as one of the reasons many of his later paintings were set in ancient Rome or based upon scenes taken from Roman mythology.
In 1854, the Waterhouses returned to England and moved to a newly built house in South Kensington, London, which was near to the newly founded Victoria and Albert Museum. Waterhouse, or ‘Nino’ as he was nicknamed, coming from an artistic family, was encouraged to become involved in drawing, and often sketched artworks that he found in the British Museum and the National Gallery. In 1871 he entered the Royal Academy of Art school, initially to study sculpture, before moving on to painting.