John William Waterhouse was born in Rome to English parents, William and Isabella, who were both painters. He was christened there on 6th April, 1849, and is believed to have been born in the first three weeks of January. That same year, the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Rossetti, Millais and Holman Hunt, were first causing a stir in the London art scene.
John was nicknamed Nino. 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 (Graeco) Roman mythology. His sister Jessie was born in 1853, and the following year the Waterhouses returned to England. They moved to a newly built house in South Kensington, close to the recently founded Victoria and Albert Museum.
Nino was encouraged to become involved in drawing, and often sketched artworks that he found in the British Museum and the National Gallery. He assisted his father in the studio throughout his teens and into early adulthood. In 1871, he entered the school of the Royal Academy of Art, initially to study sculpture, before moving on to painting. In 1895, Waterhouse was elected to the status of full Academician. He served on the Royal Academy Council.
In the course of his life, which lasted until February 1917, he produced 118 paintings. The grave illness of the last two years of his life left unfinished his series of paintings of the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.