John William Waterhouse was born in Rome to British parents on 6 April, 1849. Both of his parents were painters, and he lived there, absorbing the culture, the history and a love of art for the first six years of his life.
Waterhouse studied only under his father until he entered the Royal Academy in 1870. His first attempts to gain admission to the RA were rejected, but he finally did gain admittance in the school of sculpture under the sponsorship of Pickersgill. Pickersgill, a painter himself, encouraged young Waterhouse to return his attention to painting. Waterhouse was also greatly influenced by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, whose love of classical backgrounds and Roman history and legends greatly appealed to him.
Waterhouse is often associated with the Pre-Raphaelites because of his approach to painting and his love of myth and classical history. In truth though, Waterhouse is very much a classical painter. Waterhouse became ARA (Associate of the Royal Academy) in 1885, and RA (Full Academician) in 1895.
Waterhouse's distinctively romantic approach to the femme fatale (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Hylas and the Nymphs) and the abandoned heroine (Ophelia, Meriamne, The Lady of Shallot) appealed greatly to the masses, but his academic and technical skill commanded the respect of his both his peers and critics. He was regarded so highly, in fact, by his peers that The Enchanted Garden was exhibited posthumously at the Academy even though it was never finished.
John Waterhouse died on 10 February, 1917 after a long illness. His influence can be seen in the work of Sir Frank Dicksee, Arthur Hacker, and Herbert James Draper.