The picture dates from the later years of Waterhouse's career and is one of his more indeterminate and symbolist subjects as distinct from an illustration to mythology, such as the well-known Penelope and her Suitors (Aberdeen), exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Many of Waterhouse's later works are variations on a theme and The Charmer is no exception, being one of several paintings in which lightly clad female figures are seen seated on the rocky edge of a pool. The same motif occurs in Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus, shown at the RA in 1901 (private collection; Hobson, op. cit., 1980, pl. 105; 1989, pl. 57), the Keatsian Lamia, which appeared at the RA eight years later (private collection; Hobson, 1980, pl. 81), and The Necklace, an unfinished version of Lamia with different details (private collection; Hobson op.cit., 1980, pl. 125; 1989, pl. 73). The model for 'the charmer' also appears in many of the artist's later works.
The picture was one of three which Waterhouse showed at the RA in 1911; the others were 'Listening to my Sweet Pipings', another variation on the theme of the power of music (lot 59), and Fatima, which is now lost and seems to be unreproduced, but presumably treated the fairy-story of Bluebeard. The Charmer and 'Listening to my Sweet Pipings' were both bought by Major Alec P. Henderson, the second son of Alexander Henderson, first Lord Faringdon. A wealthy financier, Lord Faringdon owned Buscot Park in Oxfordshire and formed an important collection of modern pictures, of which the most famous were Burne-Jones's Briar Rose series, still to be seen in the saloon at Buscot, which now belongs to the National Trust. The Henderson family were loyal patrons of Waterhouse during his later years. Major Alec Henderson owned other examples including a portrait of his wife, which the artist executed in 1909, four years before her early death (Hobson, 1989, pl. 53).
The Charmer seems to have received no press notices when it was exhibited in 1911, the year of George V's Coronation, but this is not suprising. Reviews of the Royal Academy and other exhibitions were much shorter by this date than they had been in the heyday of Victorian painting, and the pictures that were noticed tended to be the more 'modern' works in keeping with the taste of the day. Romantic figure subjects had been going out of fashion since the 1890s, and many of their exponents who lived on into the twentieth century - Poynter, Dicksee, Waterhouse himself and others - turned more and more to portraiture. Younger representatives of the older tradition often suffered a terrible sense of alienation. Charles Ricketts wrote to W.B. Yeats in 1922: 'I know I am a quite useless survival from another age, and because the future has no use for me I look at it like a sheep in a railway truck'.
We are grateful to Dr. Anthony Hobson for his help in preparing this and the following two entries.