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The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse - Analysis

24 April 2022
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The Lady of Shalott - John William Waterhouse. Canvas, oil. 153 x 200 cm


What a splendid artistic masterpiece was created by master of the brush John William Waterhouse! The picture was painted in the Pre-Raphaelite and Romanticism style. Its plot includes the genre and literary scenes.

This picturesque artwork is based on the A. Tennyson’s ballad titled "The Sorceress of Shallot". In his painting, the artist managed to convey the personal impressions, feelings and sensations. The story of the painting is dramatic and tragic. The girl Elaine dies from unanswered love for the Round Table knight, Lancelot.

On his canvas, John Waterhouse depicted the most dramatic. He applied the color contrasts, chiaroscuro, and tones featuring intermediate shades, as well as the soft and smooth strokes. The melancholy autumn time brings yearning and anxiety. Elaine, in a boat, is heading to Camelot Castle. She is captured by deep sorrow and sadness, with her eyes closed; for her, the whole world turned into darkness. She was cursed and not able to leave the castle located on Shallot island, and even to look out the tower window. But one day, having noticed in her mirrors Knight Lancelot passing by on a horse; she falls in love with him and escapes the gloomy monastery. The mirror gets cracked, foreshadowing a trouble ...

The girl runs towards the river, boards a boat, writes the letters of her name on it and heads to her lover. In her hand, she is holding a chain symbolizing imprisonment. Elaine is wearing a white dress, her hair is uncombed, her mouth slightly parted. The girl is singing her farewell song. A withered leaf lies on her lap, like the extinguished light of a receding life. A tapestry woven by her hangs overboard into the water. On it, she stitched the articles of the circumjacent world she observed in the mirror. The heroine is captured by severe mental pain, despair and desolation.

She resembles a holy Christian martyr. At the stern of the boat there are three candles, and two of them already gone out in the wind. In his painting, the artist conveyed the fatality of the situation, the imminence of both spiritual and physical death of the heroine. Much of his attention was paid to the landscape. In the distance one can observe the forest, bushes, and reeds. The nature creates a special poetry of painting, carrying a baffling mysteriousness.

The artwork is truly brilliant! John Waterhouse worked very hard on his canvas, which brought him public recognition, fame and success. The painting gives interesting moments, impressions, feelings and sensations.
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