This is my favorite of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, of which there are quite a number.
I love the movement and the exotic coloring of the painting, catching the Lady just before she sees Lancelot in her mirror… That crazy hair!
Tennyson’s poem (1833, 1842) tells the story of the lady who saw Sir Lancelot riding by. She watches the world outside through her mirror–because she is cursed, of course–and weaves endlessly on her loom. But, seeing Lancelot, she stops weaving and looks out her window–thus activating the mysterious curse. Of course, she falls madly in love with the knight, whi has passed by without seeing her. She leaves the tower, floats down the river toward Camelot in a boat, dies en route, and is found by Camelot’s court, including Lancelot, who admits she “has a lovely face.” The story draws on Arthurian mythology, but is not directly taken from the original stories.
Hunt, the painter here, was one of the original Pre-Raphaelite group. His paintings are medieval and mythic in subject matter, married to a colorful, detailed, symbolic style of illustration. He rebelled against the accepted Salon styles of the mid-19th century emerging directly from the Renaissance, opting instead to return to the techniques of medieval artists, influenced by Ruskin and Carlyle.
The colors here, the shadowed picture of the king on the wall, the swirl of clothing and hair, the shoes, the yarn, the mirror… all make this my favorite of the Shalott paintings.