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Paintings › View › The Crystal Ball [without the skull] 1902   
The Lady Clare (1900)
. The Lady Clare (1900)
The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot] (1894)
. The Lady of Shalott [looking at Lancelot] (1894)
The Lady of Shalott [on boat] (1888)
. The Lady of Shalott [on boat] (1888)
The Magic Circle (study) (1886)
. The Magic Circle (study) (1886)
A Mermaid (1901)
. A Mermaid (1901)
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  bullet  1902 . Oil on canvas
  bullet  Private Collection
Actual Size (W x H): 87.7cm x 120.7cm [ 34.55" x 47.56" ]
John William Waterhouse: The Crystal Ball [without the skull] - 1902 John William Waterhouse: The Crystal Ball [without the skull] - 1902

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Art detective work has uncovered the hidden secret of a £350,000 painting after it was "doctored" in the early 1950s. "The Crystal Ball" by John William Waterhouse RA (1849-1917) shows a young model in a red dress gazing into the ball, apparently weaving a spell with the aid of a book and a skull.

It was shown alongside a more spiritual picture* by the artist at the Royal Academy in 1902. The study later entered the Pyman collection and eventually hung in the dining room at Glenborrodale Castle, Highland.

The painting was sold with the castle when the property changed hands in 1952-3. But the new owner did not like the skull and had it covered by curtains. The picture was later sold and it will be auctioned again at Christies, London, on Friday. It came into the auction room in its amended state.

But when Martin Beisly, head of the Victorian picture department, and his team began to research its background they came across photographs of the original in The Art Journal, 1909. An X-ray of the picture showed the skull still there.

A pigment analysis demonstrated that the original surface was still protected with a layer of varnish which meant the addition could be removed safely. The picture would clean up "quite beautifully", Mr Beisly said.

'Skull emerges from behind the curtains', The Times, 29 October 1994
View the version with the skull

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