artwork, head and shoulders of woman in hat
Portrait by John William Waterhouse c. 1885
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Esther Kenworthy Waterhouse was an English artist, theatre reviewer and ceramics decorator. The subject matter of her paintings focused on flowers. She regularly submitted work to be displayed at the Royal Academy of Art exhibitions between 1881 and 1890.

Personal life

Born on 5 October 1857 in Ealing, Esther Maria Kenworthy was one of the nine children of James Lees Kenworthy, an artist and teacher from Yorkshire. Together with his wife, Elizabeth, who was also a teacher, her parents ran a boarding school housing around six pupils at a time. Esther is not recorded as receiving formal training in art anywhere but, according to historian Peter Trippi, her father probably tutored her in the discipline.[1]

She married fellow artist John William WaterhouseJohn William Waterhouse was an English artist known primarily for his depictions of women set in scenes from myth, legend or poetry. He is the best known of that group of artists who from the 1880s revived the literary themes favoured by the Pre-Raphaelites. on 8 September 1883 at the parish church of St Mary in Ealing.[2] Historical convention within the Kenworthy family is that the couple may first have met via associations with her father in Yorkshire or, as suggested by Trippi, they possibly become acquainted when they were both exhibiting at the Academy.[3] They had no children;[4] academic Anthony Hobson states that this was Esther’s choice, possibly because her own childhood had been spent in a house filled to capacity by the young boys boarding together with the large number of her siblings.[5]


Her debut in the art world came at the Royal Academy in 1881[3] when she was living at Kerrison Lodge, Ealing; in that year and 1882, her exhibits were both entitled Wallflowers.[6] Her paintings continued to feature flowers as the focal point with it becoming her specialised subject. Throughout the 1880s she submitted one or two paintings to the Academy each year; works were also displayed at the Society of British Artists, galleries in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool plus other recognised institutions. Without explanation, she abruptly stopped exhibiting in 1890 although further submissions may have been made under an alias. No examples of her artworks, or reviews of it, survive.[3] She did submit a further exhibit to the Academy in 1925, entitled Marigolds, when she was encountering financial difficulties.[7]

In tandem with producing floral paintings, Esther penned theatrical reviews.[5] The later years of her life were spent decorating ceramic pieces.[3]

Death and legacy

Following the death of her husband in 1917, Esther struggled financially; she sold many of his paintings from the studio in their home at 10 Hall Road, St John’s Wood.[7] Artworks were not achieving good prices during that period and, in an attempt to raise funds before prices further deteriorated, she arranged for the remaining contents of the studio to be auctioned by Christie’s on 23 July 1926. By November 1933 the Hall Road house had been sold and she was living in a hotel.[8][a]The house was purchased by the artist Lowes Dalbiac Luard who lived there with his daughter, Veronica Mary, a sculptor; a relative described the house as run-down when the family bought it.[9]

Esther died on 15 December 1944 in a Faversham nursing home; the cause of death was cerebral haemorrhage. Both she and her husband are interred at Kensal Green Cemetery. Doris May Somerville, who had helped care for her in later life, was the beneficiary of her estate, which had a net value of £582.[8]



Graves, A. (1906). The Royal Academy of Arts (Harral-Lawranson): Vol. IV.
Hobson, A. (1989). J. W. Waterhouse. Phaidon.
Hobson, A. (1980). The Art and Life of J.W. Waterhouse, RA, 1849–1917. Studio Vista/Christie’s.
Trippi, P. (2010). J. W. Waterhouse (Reprinted in paperback). Phaidon Press.


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a. The house was purchased by the artist Lowes Dalbiac Luard who lived there with his daughter, Veronica Mary, a sculptor; a relative described the house as run-down when the family bought it.[9]