Lamia, by John William Waterhouse

Lamia, the ancient Greek sorceress, was the subject of Keats 1812 poem. In colourful language, he describes her ‘scarlet anger’ as she transforms from snake to beautiful maiden, to prey on unsuspecting male victims.

Waterhouse, a lover of Romantic interpretations of mythological subjects, painted Lamia three times, this is the earliest. It depicts the newly transformed temptress admiring her reflection, her snake skin draped over her lap.

Vain Lamorna, a study for Lamia, 1909 by John William Waterhouse

One of Waterhouse’s preparatory drawings for this painting has become known as ‘Vain Lamora’, after Mary De Morgan’s title character from her 1877 fairy tale. Lamorna was admiring her reflection when the water people stole it to teach her not to be so vain. Apparently, when the sketch was inspected in the 1980s a label was discovered on the reverse, and the title changed from Lamia, to Vain Lamorina.

Vain Lamorna, 1877, Illustration by William De Morgan

Mary De Morgan was incredibly well connected in the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts circles and so maybe Waterhouse intended to create another, similar painting to this, to illustrate De Morgan’s story?