A Mermaid, 1900 by John William Waterhouse


A Mermaid, 1900


John William Waterhouse

Ref GM3686
Type Fine Art Print
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It is possible that Waterhouse's painting of A Mermaid was inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem The Mermaid (1830) which includes the lines Who would be A mermaid fair, Singing alone, Combing her hair Tennyson's poem goes on to describe the mermaid seeking and finding love among the mermen. However Waterhouse was also interested in the darker mythology of the mermaid as an enchantress. Mermaids traditionally were sirens who lured sailors to their death through their captivating song. They were also tragic figures as mermaids could not survive in the human world which they yearned for and men could not exist in their watery realm, so any relationship was doomed. In Waterhouse's painting no sailors are depicted so that despite being a 'siren' the mermaid is shown as an alluring rather lonely figure, albeit with a fish tail. The atmosphere evoked is one of gentle melancholy as the mermaid sits alone in an isolated inlet, dreamily combing out her long hair with her lips parted in song. Beside her is a shell filled with pearls, which some believed to be formed from the tears of dead sailors.