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“The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse - The Lady of Shalott

“The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse

“The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse portrays the ending of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem of the same name. The scene shows the plight of a young woman from Arthurian legend, who yearned with unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot but was isolated under a curse in a tower near King Arthur’s Camelot.

The Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at the outside world. She was doomed to view the world through a mirror and weave what she saw into a tapestry. Her despair intensified when she saw loving couples in the far distance. One day she saw Sir Lancelot passing on his way in the reflection of her mirror, and she was overcome with desire and dared to look out at Camelot, bringing about the curse. The lady decided to face her destiny and escaped by boat, to sail to Camelot and her inevitable death.

Her frozen body was found afterwards by the knights and ladies of Camelot.

“And down the river’s dim expanse

Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.”

“The Lady of Shalott” is one of Waterhouse’s most famous masterpieces, which features the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His artworks were notable for the depiction of women from ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.

Waterhouse worked in the Pre-Raphaelite style, several decades after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. Waterhouse embraced the Pre-Raphaelite style despite the fact that it had gone out of fashion in the British art scene, by the time he painted this painting.


  • The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was devoted to representing nature and rejected the conventional methods of composition of their time. How is nature expressed in this painting?
  • The Lady defies the curse to see if she could live outside of her confinement. What do you see in her face?

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art

The Lady of Shalott

  • Title:                      The Lady of Shalott
  • Artist:                    John William Waterhouse
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Date:                      1888
  • Style:                     Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:        183 cm × 230 cm (72 in × 91 in)
  • Museum:              Tate Britain

John William Waterhouse

  • Name:                    John William Waterhouse
  • Movement:           Pre-Raphaelite
  • Born:                      1849 – Rome, Papal States
  • Died:                      1917 (aged 67) – London, England, United Kingdom
  • Nationality:          British
  • Notable works:


“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”
– Queen Victoria


Photo Credit: John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons