The original painting is sized at 114 cm × 74 cm but artist Waterhouse actually produced a larger study painting, very similar in most details, which we include within this page. There is much to enjoy in this composition, way beyond just the immediately obvious elements in the foreground. The key focus is a beautiful maiden with flowing dress, calmly observing herself through an oval mirror. She kneels upon a checked tile floor which continues right across the scene. The mirror itself is positioned within a beautifully carved wooden stand that we know the artist altered several times during the development of the painting.

In the far background we see a closed door plus several other features of the room. One might imagine this to be the female's bedroom, but if that was the case, it would certainly be on the larger size. There are also some letters and envelopes in the foreground - perhaps correspondence between herself and a distant lover? This symbolic addition would surely be explained with the original poem that inspired this painting. You can find the full poem by Tennyson within this page, and it is two specific paragraphs from that which formed the specific inspiration for Waterhouse's work here.

This composition is just so typical of John William Waterhouse - from the slim, pale skinned young model to the touches of detail to the room plus the inspiration of British poetry. He lay on the fringes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, arriving around a generation later, but his work is similar enough that many mention him in the same breath as the likes of John Everett Millais who gave us Ophelia and also William Holman Hunt who contributed the likes of The Light of the World, Christ and the two Marys and Our English Coasts to this notable movement’s list of highlights.

According to the poem, Mariana is actually praying for the return of her lover, dictator Angelo. He had previously rejected her, much to her devastation. We can narrow it down to the specific line of "And in the liquid mirror glowed the clear perfection of her face", which occurs in the third paragaraph of Tennyson's work from 1842. Many believe that this poem was in turn inspired by Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, which, if true, provides a great example of how literature and art can continue to reinvent itself in later pieces by other creative forces. This painting has, at times, been part of a private collection but is currently either owned or loaned to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, thanks to the generosity of Cecil French in 1954.

Shakespeare's tale tells of her abandonment in a tower for five years after losing her dowry at sea. Despite his actions, Angelo was still very much in love with this women, and her predicament came to symbolise the unfulfilled desire that many have experienced within their lives. Tennyson would then take this and expand it into the poem that you find below, encompassing his magical use of descriptive and sensual language. To see such a beauty frustrated and imprisoned was a powerful theme for artist Waterhouse to make use of and feels closely related to his work with The Lady of Shalott.

Mariana in the South by Lord Tennyson, 1842

With one black shadow at its feet,
The house thro’ all the level shines,
Close-latticed to the brooding heat,
And silent in its dusty vines:
A faint-blue ridge upon the right,
An empty river-bed before,
And shallows on a distant shore,
In glaring sand and inlets bright.
But "Aye Mary," made she moan,
And "Aye Mary," night and morn,
And "Ah," she sang, "to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn."

She, as her carol sadder grew,
From brow and bosom slowly down,
Thro’ rosy taper fingers drew,
Her streaming curls of deepest brown,
To left and right, and made appear,
Still-lighted in a secret shrine,
Her melancholy eyes divine,
The home of woe without a tear.
And "Aye Mary," was her moan,
"Madonna, sad is night and morn;"
And "Ah," she sang, "to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn."

Till all the crimson changed, and past
Into deep orange o’er the sea,
Low on her knees herself she cast,
Before Our Lady murmur’d she:
Complaining, "Mother, give me grace,
To help me of my weary load."
And on the liquid mirror glow’d,
The clear perfection of her face.
"Is this the form," she made her moan,
"That won his praises night and morn?"
And "Ah," she said, "but I wake alone,
I sleep forgotten, I wake forlorn."

Nor bird would sing, nor lamb would bleat,
Nor any cloud would cross the vault,
But day increased from heat to heat,
On stony drought and steaming salt;
Till now at noon she slept again,
And seem’d knee-deep in mountain grass,
And heard her native breezes pass,
And runlets babbling down the glen.
She breathed in sleep a lower moan,
And murmuring, as at night and morn,
She thought, "My spirit is here alone,
Walks forgotten, and is forlorn."

Dreaming, she knew it was a dream:
She felt he was and was not there.
She woke: the babble of the stream,
Fell, and, without, the steady glare,
Shrank one sick willow sere and small.
The river-bed was dusty-white;
And all the furnace of the light,
Struck up against the blinding wall.
She whisper’d, with a stifled moan,
More inward than at night or morn,
"Sweet Mother, let me not here alone,
Live forgotten and die forlorn."

And, rising, from her bosom drew,
Old letters, breathing of her worth,
For "Love", they said, "must needs be true,
To what is loveliest upon earth."
An image seem’d to pass the door,
To look at her with slight, and say,
"But now thy beauty flows away,
So be alone for evermore."
"O cruel heart," she changed her tone,
"And cruel love, whose end is scorn,
Is this the end to be left alone,
To live forgotten, and die forlorn?"

But sometimes in the falling day,
An image seem’d to pass the door,
To look into her eyes and say,
"But thou shalt be alone no more."
And flaming downward over all,
From heat to heat the day decreased,
And slowly rounded to the east,
The one black shadow from the wall.
"The day to night," she made her moan,
"The day to night, the night to morn,
And day and night I am left alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn."

At eve a dry cicada sung,
There came a sound as of the sea;
Backward the lattice-blind she flung,
And lean’d upon the balcony.
There all in spaces rosy-bright,
Large Hesper glitter’d on her tears,
And deepening thro’ the silent spheres,
Heaven over Heaven rose the night.
And weeping then she made her moan,
"The night comes on that knows not morn,
When I shall cease to be all alone,
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.

Study Painting for Final Artwork

Mariana in the South Study Painting John William Waterhouse

Mariana in the South (study), 1897, oil on canvas, 134.5 x 86.3 cm.