The fund raised money for British soldiers and their widows during the Boer War which had commenced in 1899. Paintings donated by 350 artists were put on exhibition in the London Guildhall and twelve thousand pounds was raised for the fund via an auction conducted by Christie's.
Waterhouse's painting shows a beautiful woman raising a glass to her mouth in a farewell toast for the departing warriors. She appears lost in her thoughts as she stands in what appears to be a loggia, an Italian style outdoor room or corridor with views out to a marshy area. An open book sits on a desk in front of her.
Beside her is a large round mirror in which the viewer can see the reflection of a large, rather ornate globe and two ships sailing out to sea. The use of the mirror is fascinating. Although the size and shape of the mirror obscures the full view of the room which can frustrate the viewer, it also provides a view of the world outside the room on the other side of the building.
Yet the reflection is confusing and does not appear to be totally accurate. The time period in which the painting is set is also ambiguous. Some writers have suggested that the mirror may reflect a vision of the future - an idea which is supported by the title of the painting, Destiny.
Waterhouse used tiled floors many times in his work, which might remind some of the stars of the Dutch Golden Age, from many centuries earlier. These domestic scenes were also common then too, and helped to give the North Europeans something of a specific look during that era. Waterhouse fused these idesa with inspiration from classical literature, in the architecture of the house, and the ships waiting patiently outside.
John William Waterhouse used mirrors in some of his other paintings including one of his versions of the "Lady of Shalot", "I am Half Sick of Shadows" and also in "Circe offering the Cup to Ulysses". Both these paintings feature large, circular mirrors which capture the view outside the setting. His painting of Lady of Shalot working on her tapestry shares some very similar attributes to this painting.
Destiny is a beautiful painting, romantic and mysterious. It captivates the viewer and encourages them to consider what Destiny lies ahead for the woman in the painting. Waterhouse regularly pictured beautiful young women in a contemplative pose, with the other objects in the scene helping the viewer to understand her quandry.
Waterhouse's Connection to the Pre-Raphaelite Movement
John William Waterhouse arrived a little too late to be considered an official member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, but much of his work beared many similarities to that exciting group of British artists. His choice of models, the themes that he based his work around, and the gentle, feminine style of portraits that he produced were all closely aligned with that group of Victorian artists.
Large Image of Destiny by John William Waterhouse
See below for a larger image of the painting. The detail is beautifully delivered by John William Waterhouse who followed the standard, academic path like most of the leading Victorian artists. He would have planned every detail of this composition carefully, including the various items dotted around the scene, besides the portrait model herself.