John William Waterhouse - Lady of Shalott

by Alexandra Tuschka


The English painter John William Waterhouse dealt in his painterly work 3 times with different episodes of the English ballad "the lady of Shalott". This story tells about a woman who lived on an island near the castle of Lancelot. She was cursed with a curse that forbade her to weave all the time and never leave the loom. Sometimes passing sailors heard her singing. Since she could never look out of the window, she only saw life passing by in a magic mirror - and so she wove the motifs from the mirror into the fabric. One day she saw Sir Lancelot in the mirror. His armor, wealth and beauty enchanted her so much that she broke the rule and looked out the window to look at him. At that moment the mirror broke and she knew that the curse would now claim her death.


To die, the Lady of Shalott let herself float downstream on a boat. Before doing so, she immortalized her name on the wood of the boat. Only later do people find her body - Sir Lancelot also takes one look at her and says a prayer for the pretty woman.

William Waterhouse picks up on these elements of the narrative - we also see the girl's name standing on the edge of the boat, the woven carpet with the worldly motifs still protruding into the water. The lady's face and stature show her knowledge of her coming fate. Wistful and seeking help, her gaze reaches the viewer. With candles she has equipped the boat for her last trip. But only one is burning. Although the scene is surrounded by an extraordinary silence, the light draws the girl out onto the water, symbolizing the inevitability of her fate.


John William Waterhouse - Lady of Shalott

Oil on canvas, 1888, 153 x 200 cm, Tate Museum in London