J W Waterhouse
Circe Invidiosa

J W Waterhouse, Britain, 1849 - 1917, Circe Invidiosa, 1892, London, oil on canvas, 180.7 x 87.4 cm; South Australian Government Grant 1892, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

This painting is of a mythical witch-like woman called Circe.

It tells a story of anger and envy.

The painting is called Circe Invidiosa.

It means ‘Envious Circe’.

It is based on a poem written 2000 years ago by Ovid,

who lived in ancient Rome.

In the poem, Circe tries to make the sea-god Glaucus fall in love with her.

But Glaucus is in love with a beautiful fairy called Scylla.

Angry with envy, Circe pours poison into the sea where Scylla bathes.

This changes Scylla into an ugly sea monster.

This painting was made by John William Waterhouse in 1892.

John’s painting shows Circe pouring the green poison into the sea.

Green is the colour of envy.

Circe’s poison turns the sea green and everything around her green.

John is reminding us that envy is most harmful to the person who makes it.

John was an important British artist.

He was born in Rome in 1849.

He studied art at the Royal Academy School, an important art school in London.

His paintings are like those made by the Olympians.

The Olympians were a group of British artists who got ideas from ancient Greek

and Roman stories.

They painted these stories to explain ideas about how people should behave.

The Art Gallery has another painting by John, called The favourites of the Emperor Honorius.

The Art Gallery bought it in 1883.

It was the first art gallery in the world to buy one of his paintings.

About 10 years later, it bought Circe Invidiosa.

Not everyone in Adelaide liked the painting back then.

But today Circe Invidiosa is one of the most loved and copied works of art in the Art Gallery.