Throughout history, artists have continually been motivated by works of literature. Fantasy stories can leave a deep and lasting impression on people. If this weren’t so, why would master artists of the past be so inclined as to spend hours upon hours meticulously mapping out their creations, stretching canvas, grinding pigment, and spending days at work to illustrate the literature of their peers? What I find amazing is not only their dedication, but the passion the artist convey in some of these ‘stories on canvas.’
Take for instance John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott, painted in 1888 from the poem by Lord Tennyson about the young lady of Arthurian legend Elaine of Astolat. Elaine’s story has many adaptions but most agree she died of unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. Perhaps it’s her beauty and the bittersweet ending of her young life that inspired Waterhouse to paint this beautiful painting.
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, ” ‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.
“Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.” -a Victorian ballad by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892).
What I find so amazing is that artists illustrated stories that were known all over the world and the public knew what the work was that was being illustrated.
I’ve written more on this subject on Amazing Stories Magazine and I think it makes a great theme. I think I will so some more research for my blog! Let me know your thoughts!