Monday, June 1, 2015

Let's talk about: The Lady of Shalott painted by John William Waterhouse

When I was little I knew the Lady of Shalott poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson because of the Anne of Green Gables movie. 
But I really didn't get what it was about until I was older. 
The Lady of Shalott tells the story of a young woman that is alone in a tower near Camelot. She is loosely based of Elaine of Astolat from the Arthurian legend who loved (unrequited) Sir Lancelot. 
The Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at the world outside her tower. She had to view it through a mirror and weave what she saw into a tapestry. She was overcome with despair as she saw loving couples in the distance and she longed for a normal life. 
One day as she saw Sir Lancelot passing, she dared to look out at Camelot without the mirror which cracked the mirror and she felt the curse come upon her. 
She escaped by boat during a storm, sailing towards certain death and Camelot and singing. 
Her frozen body was found shortly after by the knights and ladies of Camelot, one of them being Lancelot, who prayed to God to have mercy on her soul. 
The tapestry she wove during her imprisonment was draped over the boat.

This painting, by English Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse is one of his most famous works. He painted the Lady at the moment of her decision to leave. Her moment of defiance to see if she can leave the curse behind and see if she can live outside of her confinement.
John William Waterhouse put many details into this painting. 
You can see her tapestry hanging over the boat. She has a lantern on the boat because the poem states it will soon be dark. There are three candles on the boat. It is stated that candles were a representation of life and two of the candles are already blown out, signifying that her death is soon to come. It shows her holding onto the chain that she is about to let go of.

This painting has been lauded as a good representation of the Pre-Raphaelite style because of the detail of the beauty of nature around her, the richness of color, the realistic quality, and the interpretation of a vulnerable, yearning woman. 

This is a large painting. It is sixty by nearly eighty inches.
This 1888 oil-on-canvas painting is London's Tate Britain museum.

I love this painting because I think it not only captures the feel and despair of the poem but if you look closely at the woman, it looks like a photograph. There is so much detail here that you can feel her emotions. 
And really, that is what art is supposed to do. 


The Kings said...

I like that painting. And I am glad to finally know the story behind the Lady.

cheryl said...


Donna said...

I love this! I was first introduced to the Lady of Shalott because of Anne Shirley, ha ha. It's neat to learn more about it. I think the painting is so interesting and lovely.

cheryl said...

Yep, me too. Anne taught me a lot!