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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Painting of the Month (21) September 2011: J W Waterhouse

The Lady of Shalott. Painted 1888
John William Waterhouse  (1849-1917) was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter. His favourite subjects were mythology and Arthurian legend and this picture is based on the eponymous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Looking at the bulk of his work in retrospect one is tempted to say that it is sentimental and extremely unfashionable in the way that much Victorian painting is thought of today. See, for example, the work of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
However unfashionable, I think it's time for a re-evaluation of some of this kind of painting.
Taking The Lady of Shalott at face-value, the thing that strikes me initially is - it is beautiful and radiates calm and peacefulness.  In reality the story is nothing like that - she is about to drown herself. (See 'Ophelia' painted by Millais in 1852), a probable source of inspiration for this work.

  • The characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite painting (and literature) are a directness and attention to detail and realism in a way that was last known before Raphael at the time of the High Renaissance. There was also a strong tendency towards medievalism as typified by this painting.
  • The Lady of Shallot was depicted as one of the characters in the Arthurian legends with the Knights of The Round Table.

17 comments:

joanne fox said...

This is a lovely painting. I've always liked the old pre-raffs! Wish my hair was as long as hers.

bazza said...

joanne: Well her hair looks a bit 'flyaway' but if she is about to drown herself I don't suppose she cares.

Anonymous said...

From the wine cellar of Sir Tom Eagerly:
Well Bazza old thing she certainly looks like a bit of a beauty bur alas I reckon she would be about 200 by now. A little aged even for Sir Tom. Bottoms up!

bazza said...

Sir Tom: 200? I'd have thought she would be a perfect match for you. What will Lady Eagerly think:

Chinatours said...

I am a layman of panting, but I think this one is nice, for its mixture of colours, the arrange of light and shadow as well as the expression of the girl, am I right?

Botanist said...

I like to take paintings at face value and just let them impress themselves on my visual senses, so the beauty and serenity is my take-away. I also love the technical proficiency - deep envy!

joanne said...

oh, this is beautiful... the details are extraordinary... i too am envious of an artistic eye that sees this deeply into things and can bring that sight into form...

(and now i am sidetracked off on a tangent because i can't help but be amused reading the first two comments... my hair is that long, and many days it is that "flyaway"!

... and i'm not sure what it means that i don't much care... i kind of like it that way... wild, silver, and very long ... all the ways women are told their hair shouldn't be :)

bazza said...

Chinatours: Hello again. Of course you are 'right!' because there is no right and wrong. Art appreciation is very subjective so your own opinion is as valid as any other. I did Art History as part of my degree so I have a lot of historical and technical knowledge but that does not make me an expert!

bazza said...

Botanist: Exactly! You express very well the right way to view art in my opinion. Sometimes a viewer can see something in a picture that even the artist did not realise was there.

bazza said...

joanne: The detail is amazing. If you double-click the picture it becomes truly remarkable. Even the sadness in her eyes becomes apparent.
And as for the hair.....

THE SNEE said...

Hi Bazza,

I'm feeling a bit Victorian, so I greatly, and I mean greatly appreciate this art. I share the artist envy with the rest of your readers too. Thanks for writing up this post. I loved the visual journey.

klahanie said...

Hello bazza,
Well, looking at it from just an angle of appreciation, I rather like the painting.
Cheerio, old bean, and thank you for sharing...

David said...

Dear bazza,
Once again, a lovely painting to look at!
I was familiar with Tennyson's poem, but not this picture. Thanks for furthering my education, bazza, as you always seem to do.
Regards,
David.

bazza said...

Snee: Hi there. You referred to aches and pains in your other comment. Have you been unwell - I must have missed something!
Feeling Victorian, eh? I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but happy that you like this lovely picture.

bazza said...

Gary: That's the way to look at it. Enjoy!

David: Professor Bazza is happy to help out!

rob said...

I believe the PRB were very keen on poetry and also had links with the Oxford Movement. Didn't they have a belief that art should bring about social change?

Thanks for posting this Bazza.

bazza said...

Hello Rob, it's always good to hear from you.
I am unaware of their link to the Oxford Movement; wasn't their aim to re-instate Catholicism or to reunite it with Anglicism?
I think William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement had more to do with social change but I'm uncertain.