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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

John William Waterhouse


The Lady of Shalott
1888
oil on canvas
153 × 200 cm
Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom

The Lady of Shalott is a representation of a scene from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1832 poem of the same name, in which the poet describes the plight of a young woman, loosely based on the figure of Elaine of Astolat from medieval Arthurian legend, 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 reworked the story.
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.

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) was an English painter of classical, historical, and literary subjects, known for working in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He embraced the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting despite the fact that it had gone out of fashion in the British art scene several decades before. Borrowing stylistic influences not only from the earlier Pre-Raphaelites but also from his contemporaries, the Impressionists, his artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend. Although not as well known as earlier Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, his work is currently displayed at several major British art galleries, and the Royal Academy of Art organised a major retrospective of his work in 2009.

He was born in Rome to the English painters, in the same year that the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, were first causing a stir in the London art scene. His early life in Italy has been cited as one of the reasons why many of his later paintings were set in ancient Rome or based upon scenes taken from Roman mythology. In the 1850s the family returned to England. Before entering the Royal Academy of Art in 1870, he assisted his father and mother in his studio. He was referred to as "Nino" throughout his life. In 1885 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and a full member in 1895. Despite suffering from increasing frailty during the final decade of his life, he continued painting until his death from cancer in 1917.