Published in Tennyson's Heroes and Heroine (c. 1894)

Color lithograph on paper

ii ii/i6x 8 9/16 in. (29.7 x 22 cm.)

Signed in plate lower left

Lent by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Wisconsin Memorial Library.

Illustrators have depicted the Lady of Shalott as a comical figure, as a religious symbol, as an iconic representation of the artist, and in the case of Inez Warry's illustration, as a projection of a refined, domestic Victorian woman. In Warry's version, the Lady appears to be embroidering a depiction of the events of King Arthur's court instead of actually weaving a tapestry as indicated in Tennyson's poem. Whereas embroidery was considered an appropriate activity for an upper-class Victorian woman, large-scale weaving was practiced only by rural women or poor, urban women employed in the textile industry. Of course, William Morris's revival of hand weaving resulted in a reevaluation of its association with the lower class. However, in 1894, when Warry's illustration was published, the average upper-class English or American woman had little contact with hand weaving. Warry, like other illustrators of the poem, felt uncomfortable representing as a weaver a woman they considered refined, privileged, and even courtly. Warry therefore simply ignored the poem and eliminated the loom whereas in his painting of the subject Hunt romanticized her labor by creating an elegant, nonfunctional loom frame, which like Warry's embroidery frame, receives little emphasis in the overrall image, thereby shifting the focus from her weaving to her physicality.

Hunt's Lady of Shalott

Although Hunt's final oil painting represents a slightly different moment in the poem, one can compare it to Warry's Lady of Shalott. In Warry's illustration, the Lady of Shalott, who sits daintily on a cushioned stool, wears a simple, clinging dress ornamented at the waist, neckline, and cuffs with needlework. She bends her head slightly forward to concentrate on her embroidery; a capped hat with a long white veil frames her brown wavy hair. Her bland, pretty face indicates neither artistic nor intellectual concern for her embroidery. Hunt's early sketches similarly show a seated Lady of Shalott who weaves her tapestry oblivious to the external world. Realizing the limitations of this depiction, he reverted to his original idea of a standing figure, which appears to be both visually and physically stronger than the seated figure in Warry's illustration.

At the time that The Lady of Shalott was published in the Moxon Tennyson (1857), the Lady appeared strong and individualized when compared to typical Victorian images of passive women. However, by the time Hunt finished his painting of the subject in 1905, the figure had lost its individuality. Over a span of fifty years the Lady had regressed into a stereotypical Pre-Raphaelite woman associated with a previous generation. Indeed, Warry's illustration, which was completed eleven years earlier than Hunt's painting, predicted the rapid devolution of an idealized image into a stereotype.

References

Callen, Anthea. Women Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1870-1914/span>. NY: Pantheon, 1979.

Rodgers, Timothy R. Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and its Contexts, Ed. George P. Landow. Brown University: 1985. p. 136.

Boris, Cynthia Eileen. "Art and Labour: John Ruskin, William Morris, and the Craftman Ideal in America, 1876-1915." PhD diss. Brown University, 1981.

Tennyson, Alfred. The Works. London: C. Kegan Paul and Co., 1881.


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Last modified 29 December 2006