The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

800px-JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888This week’s featured image is The Lady of Shalott.

This painting ranks in my top 3 favorite paintings by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). John William Waterhouse was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and many of his works are depictions of some of my favorite figures in literature, poetry, and history.

This particular image is based on the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).  It is based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, who does for her unrequited love of Sir Lancelot.  I first learned of this poem from the classic children’s story, Anne of Green Gables (set in 1878) by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which was dramatized in 1985 starring Megan Follows and directed by Kevin Sullivan.

In Anne of Green Gables (1985), Anne and her friends stage a re-enactment of the Tennyson poem and only Anne is brave enough to take out John Barry’s dory into the Lake of Shining Waters. Here are a few stanzas of the poem that Anne lovers will recognize from the film:


Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.


There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

Loreena McKennitt also did a vocal version of the poem which is quite lovely so I’ve included the video here:

[tentblogger-youtube Vw_cZGrVFqw]

What do you think of this image or song?  Comment below — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next week!

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3 thoughts on “The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

  1. That’s a beauty, isn’t it? I saw it in the Tate a couple years ago. Although the Pre-Raphaelites are not my favorite, I certainly admire all great masters’ works. There are some paintings in this world, usually at the National in London, where I just tear up looking at them and can’t walk away for a long time. Does that ever happen to you?


    • It hasn’t happened yet but I hope it will someday. We have a great museum here in St. Louis, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet to visit any others. I’m sure with greater exposure I probably would encounter such a painting. What I can tell you is when I look at the Pre-Raphaelites, something stirs inside me, a sort of happy longing to see depicted these figures I associate with literature and poetry. The romanticized portrayal of The Lady of Shalott makes me feel that Waterhouse captured Tennyson’s 1842 poem quite well indeed. I love the detail Waterhouse includes of the tapestry woven with the pictures she sees from her window.


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