The Lady of Shalott (painting)

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The Lady of Shalott
John William Waterhouse The Lady of Shalott.jpg
Artist John William Waterhouse
Year 1888
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 153 cm × 200 cm (60 in × 79 in)
Location Tate Britain, London

The Lady of Shalott is an 1888 oil-on-canvas painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse in Tate Britain in London, where it is usually on display, in room 1840 in 2013. The work is a representation of a scene from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1832 poem of the same name,[1] in which the poet describes the plight of a young woman, loosely based on the figure of Elaine of Astolat from medieval Arthurian legend,[2] who yearned with an unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot, isolated under an undisclosed curse in a tower near King Arthur's Camelot. Tennyson also reworked the story in Elaine, part of his Arthurian epic Idylls of the King, published in 1859, though in this version the Lady is rowed by a retainer in her final voyage.[3] Waterhouse painted three different versions of this character, in 1888,[1] 1894[4] and 1915.[5]

According to Tennyson's version of the legend, the Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at reality or the outside world; instead she was doomed to view the world through a mirror, and weave what she saw into tapestry. Her despair was heightened when she saw loving couples entwined in the far distance, and she spent her days and nights aching for a return to normality. One day the Lady saw Sir Lancelot passing on his way in the reflection of the mirror, and dared to look out at Camelot, bringing about a curse. The lady escaped by boat during an autumn storm, inscribing 'The Lady of Shalott' on the prow. As she sailed towards Camelot and certain death, she sang a lament. Her frozen body was found shortly afterwards by the knights and ladies of Camelot, one of whom is Lancelot, who prayed to God to have mercy on her soul. The tapestry she wove during her imprisonment was found draped over the side of the boat.

From part IV of Tennyson's poem:

And down the river's dim expanse

Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.[6]

Tennyson's verse was popular with many of the Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters, and was illustrated by such artists as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Maw Egley, and William Holman Hunt.[7] Throughout his career, Waterhouse was preoccupied with the poetry of both Tennyson and John Keats.[1] Between 1886 and 1894 Waterhouse painted three episodes from the former's epic,[citation needed] and La Belle Dame sans Merci (1893) from Keats.

Although the painting is typically Pre-Raphaelite in composition and tone, its central framing is more typical of traditional compositions. It is typically Pre-Raphaelite in that it illustrates a vulnerable and doomed woman and is bathed in natural early-evening light.[8] The lady is portrayed staring away from the crucifix, which sits beside three candles. During the late nineteenth century, candles were often used to symbolise life:[1] In this image, two have blown out.

The Lady of Shalott was donated to the public by Sir Henry Tate in 1894.[1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "The Lady of Shalott 1888". Tate Gallery webpage and display caption, Retrieved on 7 December 2013.
  2. ^ Potwin, L.S. (December 1902). "The Source of Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott". Modern Language Notes (Modern Language Notes, Vol. 17, No. 8) 17 (8): 237–239. doi:10.2307/2917812. JSTOR 2917812. 
  3. ^ Poulson, 189
  4. ^ www.johnwilliamwaterhouse.com Retrieved on 7 December 2013.
  5. ^ I am Half-Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott page at Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; www.johnwilliamwaterhouse.com Retrieved on 7 December 2013.
  6. ^ Riggs, Terry. "The Lady of Shalott, 1888". Tate Exhibition Catalog, February 1998. Retrieved 12 October 2007.
  7. ^ Stein, Richard L., "The Pre-Raphaelite Tennyson", Victorian Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring, 1981) , pp. 278-301, Indiana University Press, JSTOR; Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, “The Moxon Tennyson as Textual Event: 1857, Wood Engraving, and Visual Culture”; "Pre-Raphaelitism in Poetry", by George P. Landow, Victorian Web
  8. ^ "The Lady of Shalott (1888) by John William Waterhouse". mseffie. Retrieved on 7 October 2007.

Sources[edit]

  • Casteras, Susan. "The Victorians: British Painting, 1837-1901". Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1997.
  • Poulson, Christine, The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art, 1840-1920, 1999, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0719055377, 9780719055379, google books

External links[edit]