Isabella Waterhouse (née Mackenzie) was an English portrait painter. A member of an artistic family, she was born in about 1821 in Scotland. Her father was John Mackenzie (c. 1793–1860), the secretary of the prestigious Union Club on London’s Trafalgar Square, whose patrons included the Duke of Wellington and later Charles Dickens.[1][2]

A miniature by Isabella, bearing the title Fruit, was submitted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1843. Her sisters, Jane and Eliza, were also artists, regularly exhibiting their work at the Academy from 1846 for just over a decade.[3][4]

At the Royal Academy exhibition in 1846, a portrait Isabella produced, entitled Miss E Gilchrist, was displayed.[a]At the time of the exhibition, Isabella lived with her father at 13 Alfred Place, Brompton.[5] Academic Anthony Hobson suggests it is likely she met her future husband, fellow artist William WaterhouseEnglish artist; father of John William Waterhouse, either at the exhibition or that of the Society of British Artists, where his painting Guarda was presented.[6] The couple were married on 5 February 1848 at Kensington Parish church.[7] Isabella’s husband was from Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, but had been living intermittently in Rome since 1846.[1] The newly weds moved to Rome shortly after their marriage.[8]

Three of Isabella’s four children were born while the couple lived in Italy: the eldest, John WilliamEnglish 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. , was born in 1849; Edwin, who was baptised on 2 June 1850; and Jessie, born on 22 February 1853, their only daughter.[9] The country, and particularly the city of Rome, was undergoing a period of severe political unrest, so records concerning their family life during that period are sparse. The turbulence in the city, coupled with Isabella’s delicate constitution and debilitation after the birth of her first child, led to the family relocating to a farmhouse in the Alban Hills near Frascati for a couple of years. A wet nurse was employed to care for the baby.[7] By early 1853, the family had returned to a city life in the centre of Rome until permanently returning to England in 1854.[10] Initially the family lived for a brief period at Brompton with Isabella’s father prior to moving to an upper middle-class area of Kensington where a house was newly built to accommodate their expanding family.[8] Isabella’s youngest child, Charles, was born in 1855, although he was not baptised until 18 May the following year.[7][11]

Isabella died, aged 36, on 8 September 1857 at her home, 13 Eldon Road, Kensington; the cause of death was recorded as phthisis, commonly referred to as tuberculosis.[11] Records do not indicate whether she undertook any artistic endeavours after her marriage.[12]


a At the time of the exhibition, Isabella lived with her father at 13 Alfred Place, Brompton.[5]