Seeing as though I was going to London, I looked on the net to see where the graves of my fave artist was and my fave writer where. As luck would have it, Waterhouse’s wasn’t too far from where I was staying but Mervyn Peake’s (he being the writer of the wonderful Gormenghast books) was miles away (on the coast, I think). I visited johnwilliamwaterhouse.com before I went and found some info on how to find his grave. Lucky I did. It’s such a big place! It’s like a city in itself.
It took me 40 mins to walk to Kensal Green Cemetery and, thankfully with the info I’d printed off beforehand, found John Waterhouse’s grave within about 15 mins of entering. I have to admit to stopping at various places to take photo’s of some of the wonderful mausoleums, some of which looked like little temples and chapels themselves. I could have spent all day wandering around the cemetery but I wanted to go to the city’s center later on, so I was a bit pushed for time. I knew that Sir John Tenniel’s grave was in the same cemetery as well and I would have very much liked to have seen that but just didn’t have the time. Sir John Tenniel, by-the-way, was the illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.
I found the grave quite easily from the photo I’d printed off, the urn at the foot of the headstone marking it out from the rest. Compared to many of the other headstones and mausoleums around the cemetery, John Waterhouse’s was remarkably unremarkable. I felt a little aggrieved that someone who has had such a profound impact upon my life should have such an ordinary looking headstone. Having said that, it kind of seems fitting. Waterhouse, as far as I’m aware, was never one who sought the limelight and his work, certainly in the later years of his life, was largely ignored. It’s only in the latter years of the 20th century that interest in his work has flourished. As an example, the 1894 Ophelia sold in 1950 for just £20. 43 years later it sold for £419,500. 7 years later it sold for £1.6 million. Not a bad investment.
Anyway, here’s some photo’s I took that morning.
Waterhouse’s headstone is the one at the back with the wreath carved in a circle at the top with the urn in front of it. The cross in front of it was not on the picture I had printed off from a photo that was taken in Oct 2003. The name on it is Ada Mary. I’ve no idea who she is or what connection she may have to John Waterhouse. Answers on a postcard, please.
Headstone and urn
Sadly, most of the writing on the headstone is ineligible. As you can see, somebody has used something sharp to scratch ‘Waterhouse’ where the original engraving is barely visible.
About a foot or two below the artist’s name is his wife’s name, Esther. I think it says:
Here lies Esther
Wife of J Waterhouse
Died Dec 15th 1944
This engraving must obviously have been done 24 years after John’s name but it’s still been weathered pretty badly.
Here’s the urn which seems to have fared better than the headstone. I can make out a stag, a peacock (symbolic of immortality, according to Trippi) and grapes. The stag and grapes seem very Dionysian to me which kind of makes sense after Waterhouse painted a number of pictures using Greek mythology as their central theme.
Here’s a photo from the back. The grave is not far from the path near the crematorium (just in case anyone wants to pay a visit).
In summing up, it was a curious thing to be at his graveside, thinking of all those paintings of his that have affected me so. I guess there’s a kind of immortality in that, where ones vision is impressed upon later generations as long as those paintings endure. It can only be a blessing to the world as well, that those visions are ones of beauty. I gave silent thanks to John William Waterhouse for all he has given me, and will continue to give, for the rest of my life. I did mean to take a rose and leave it on the grave, a flower which I’m sure was close to John Waterhouse’s heart, but shamefully, I forgot. There’s always next time.
I left the graveside with a few glances back, as if leaving behind something much loved. It was a shame I was in a bit of a rush but I was looking forward to going the city center. I had some paintings I wanted to see.
Until next time,