Description: SIGNED AND DATED (MAKER'S MARKS)
signed J.W. Waterhouse (lower right)
Dimensions: 28 3/8 by 36 1/4 in.
72 by 92 cm
Artist or Maker: British, 1849-1917
Medium: oil on canvas
Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1874, no. 1402
Literature: J. A. Blaikie, "J W Waterhouse, ARA," The Magazine of Art, 1886, pp. 2-3
Anthony Hobson, The Art and Life of J W Waterhouse, RA, New York, Rizzoli, 1980, no. 10, pl. 11, pp. 21, 179-180
Anthony Hobson, J W Waterhouse, London, Phaidon, 1989, no. 10, p. 18, illustrated
Peter Trippi, J W Waterhouse, London, Phaidon, 2002, pp. 28-30, 41, illustrated
Provenance: George Rowney & Co., London
Sale, London, Sotheby's, October 1, 1979, lot 37, illustrated
Notes: Sleep is a death, O make me try
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By sleeping, what it is to die,
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82), Religio Medici II
Sleep and his Half Brother Death was Waterhouse's first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy (1874). The subject was unusually allegorical for Waterhouse at this point in his career and the ambitious theme was most likely envisioned as a tribute to the recent death of his two younger brothers. The painting is a superb early example of Waterhouse's debt to Alma-Tadema, shown by the windowed composition, the classical themes and the truncated statuary at the far right.
Few Victorians chose to depict the Greek twin gods Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos), though Goethe and Shelley had both written interpretations of the myth. The narrative held great sensual possibility as an embodiment of dormant and living beauty brought to life by the musical instruments, rich fabrics and steam rising from the background (see Trippi, p. 29).