Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Soul of The Rose

{EDIT: August 4, 2010. I posted the original version of this late last night in a bit of an inspired but poorly thought out rush. I had trouble positioning the images which consumed a lot of time. Then I found that I had much more to say about this painting when I really looked at it. As such, I rewrote the post this evening. It possesses the shell of last night’s post, but expands it immensely. Please forgive my short sighted attempt last night, and reread the new post. I hope you enjoy it.}

I would like to share another one of my favorite paintings, "The Soul Of The Rose by John W. Waterhouse. The painting is also known as "My Sweet Rose". I am posting 3 different scans of the same painting. Each scan is slightly different in coloring and brightness and each has its own charms.

The first is from Carol Gerten Fine Art, CGFA

The second is from

I first ran into this painting on the cover of Diane Ackerman's excellent book A Natural History of The Senses. It is hard to believe that the painting was not produced entirely for the cover of the book, if so Waterhouse was a visionary with a sense for the future. He painted The Soul of The Rose in 1908 and Ackerman’s book was published in 1991. You can see the painting on the cover of the hardback edition here:

A Natural History of The Senses at Amazon

You can click on the images for a larger rendition. The first two allow an additional enlargement by clicking the enlarged version again.

The last is from Wikipedia

The sensuality of this painting is just astounding. The woman is mesmerized by the fragrance of the rose--indeed the soul of the rose. Note that her eyes are nearly closed, her lips slightly parted in what approaches a trance. Her entire being is concentrating on the fragrance of the rose, and possibly the tactile sensation of the soft smooth petals against her face and lips. She is very relaxed, yet concentrating on and experiencing the fragrance in a fashion that I must confess I envy. Such abandon, and yet such absorption focused in to the existence of a simple rose!

Her left hand delicately rests against the wall to steady herself. The ethereal nature of her fingers is fascinating and change from scan to scan. I especially like her fingers in the second scan (Waterhouse). The paleness of her long extended fingers contrasted to the slightly darker flesh tones of her knuckles, and the hint of unpainted fingernails is one of the very charming details of this painting. I find the garish coloration on her fingers and hands of the first scan (CGFA) to be disappointing. In my mind the coloration destroys the tender delicacy of the placement of her hand on the wall. The charm of her left hand on the wall is further accented by the slight bending of the first knuckle opposed by a much slighter bending of the outer knuckle. Her hands are beautiful and the left hand on the wall is nothing short of magnificent.

She has a Waterhouse jaw, but the elegant downward sweep of her throat countered by the modest rise of her bust is to me breath taking. The slight dip and shadow at the front of her throat defining a delicate larynx and tendons off set by the expanse of the milky smooth texture of the side of her neck is beautiful. The nature of her robe is suggestive that she may have little else on, perhaps fresh from her bath. The folding of the material at her bust hints that the garment may be delightfully parted, perhaps a bit more than modesty would esteem. However, within the walled compound of her villa, can she not be delightfully immodest without reprove? The mildly suggestive nature of her garment fills this painting with a heart breaking sensuality.

The thin gentle delicacy of her forearms are beautiful. Note the absolute exquisiteness of her right inner wrist, you can almost see a pulse below the heel of her hand. The flow of her wrist into the gentle curve of her forearms pleads for a caress. As lovely as her fingers on her left hand are, the lower portion of her left hand and wrist are something of a disappointment, somewhat glossed over. For all of the delicacy of this woman’s fingers, hands, and wrists, her shoulders seem to be powerfully built, but while contrasting somewhat they do not subtract from her more subtly feminine features.

Moving our appreciative gaze upward the woman’s face is beautiful, but a Waterhouse face—but let us save the criticism for last, and linger for the moment with her beauty. Her nose is surprisingly prominent. The darker shading on her eyelids is enchanting. Her hair is a lovely shade of auburn (a lovely shade depending on which scan you look at it) and there is an element of strands visible which add to the charm. If you look closely, you will see a tip on earlobe peaking out from her pulled back hair. The coloration of her cheek is very much subject to which scan you look at. The third scan (Wikipedia) is somewhat washed out with the flesh tones having a bluish cast. The red shows up nicely on her cheek yet her flesh is too pale. In the first scan (CGFA), she appears to be sporting a severe abrasion. My vote goes to the second scan where the blush shows but blends rather than contrasts. Her cheek comes off as flushed with pleasure in the second scan. She is a beautiful woman.

That is one of the things I love about this painting. She is a woman. Not a girl, not an early 20 something, but a woman with an air of maturity and self confidence. She allows herself to become lost in the fragrance and the delicate kiss of a rose. She fires my imagination with her charms and enchantments. I imagine her fresh from her bath, slipping into nothing but her robe, leaving it loosely open in the front to luxuriate in the cool evening breezes. She wanders out to the court, hears the birds in evening song, and delights in the rising chorus of the crickets. She stops and feels the rich fragrance of the rose penetrate her lungs. She feels the satiny smooth petals gently caress her lips. As the evening dips into to twilight she returns to the arms of a waiting lover.

What a romantic fool I am. But it is the power of the beauty of this woman’s ecstasy with the soul of the rose in this painting that inspires such imaginings. A true masterpiece.

Surely I must find some disappointments with this painting. Indeed yes! I wish we could see her bare feet. This woman lost in her moment with the rose, just demands bare feet. I wished her robe was more delicate and perhaps of a diaphanous nature. As much as I find this garment to be alluring from the front near her bust, indeed causing more firings of my somewhat lecherous imagination, I find the garments straight drop off her powerful shoulders downward to be very disappointing. I want to see her shoulder blades, the small of her back, and the swell of her derrière. But my biggest disappointment with this painting is not something one would notice with just this painting. You have to see more of Waterhouse’s works to understand this grievance. My lovely rose sniffing beauty looks almost exactly like every other woman that Waterhouse painted. Go to Google images and search John Waterhouse paintings. It looks like a family reunion of identical centuplets.

Good God John, in 1908 there had to be at least 2 billion women on the face of the Earth. Surely they all looked different. John why do your beautiful women always have the same face, the same jaw line, and the same hairdo? Surely there had to be a broad spectrum of women to choose from. Why the same face?

But overall, I must confess a love for this painting and a longing for the woman in it. I am jealous for her ability to stop and smell the roses and completely lose herself while doing so. And truth be known, I am jealous of that imaginary lover who will shortly be navigating the infinite charms of this totally delightful and beautiful woman. Oh the wonders of pigmented oils smeared on a piece of canvas, where it can take our imaginations.


  1. One painting but three paintings. Wonder which is most like the original? The three seen together remind me of Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. Here, in a moment of trilocation, the young woman is in the rose garden of the Generalife Palace is Grenada, at a vineyard in the South of France, Arles perhaps, and in a garden of an Irish lord or Scottish laird. And each place had its own peculiar quality of light.

  2. Old Baguette, I changed the post immensely. Please read it again. I was too rushed and too tired last night when I posted it. Ill advised move on my part.

    It is totally the same painting, but different scans. I must confess a disappointment with the first scan. Usually CGFA has very good scans. The coloration is off and a tiny bit of the top of the painting is gone and about 10% of the bottom was not scanned.

  3. Nothing wrong with your former blog at all. Nor is there anyhthing wrong with this one. Had a visitor today who could have been a model for "version" three. Even she thought so. Was quite uncanny actually.

  4. I had an aunt-Hariette-who looked much like this.

    Beautiful,paintings are amazing movers of our deep feeling.

    1. Did Aunt Hariette sit frequently for Waterhouse? He only painted one woman, she is beautiful!

      Paintings are probably the richest source of sensual beauty for me next to music. But it is a rare piece of music that affects me as much as a good painting and this is a good one.

      Sarah, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Harriet was an artist. Married to an uncle-but they divorced after she brought another man to live with them. I think my uncle had enough. In truth she struggled with depression and other issues all her life. I do not know why she died-it is lost to memory. However she did look like this at one point in her life.

  6. Oh my. Thank you for this. I know so little about art. When I read this, I feel as if I'm taking a class in art history from a professor who loves his subject.

    1. Donna

      Yes, indeed I am professor...full of B.S. in art history and with a PHD (Pile it on Higher Doc) in the art of conversation. In any event, thank you for your kind compliment.

  7. It's interesting that you comment on her bare feet. I've noticed that Waterhouse has a keen knack for painting the details of the human foot. Notice the girl in "Pandora's Box". The soles of her feet look extremely realistic, with the pink hue on the bottom.

  8. Alexander,

    I agree Waterhouse does nice feet, however check out William Adolph Bouguereau's feet...they are masterpieces. May I suggest: The Shepherdess (one of my favorites), The Wave, Biblis, The Bather, Edge of The Brook.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.