Atkinson Grimshaw, though not acquainted directly with the leaders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, demonstrates his interest in the same ideas and themes with his paintings of Tennyson's Elaine and Lady of Shalott . Grimshaw was mostly known for his paintings of cities and landscapes, so these two works show a side of him not often seen. But his interest in the city shows in the careful depiction of medieval towns that make up the backgrounds of the two paintings, especially in Elaine .

Elaine Lady of Shalott

Other depictions of the Lady of Shalott in her boat show her in the midst of a green and flower-filled environment. Grimshaw's work has very little earthy coloring, favoring red and orange tones over green and brown. The only sign of nature in Grimshaw's work are the ominous silhouettes of trees in the background. Elaine lacks plant presence altogether.

Comparing the work to Tennysons' poem, the piece indeed seems a more faithful depiction of the setting at the Lady of Shalott's outset than those of either Hughes or Waterhouse:

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
            Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote  125
            The Lady of Shalott.

Grimshaw seems to fully capture the ominous tone of the Lady's departure, as well as giving the viewer the sense of the impossible distance to Camleot. Tennyson speaks very little of any bright and green riparian enviornments that the Lady might have encountered; he speaks instead of the towers of Camelot.

Discussion Questions

1. Is it more than a coincidence that made the theme of a tragically deceased woman in a boat so popular among the later Pre-Raphaelites and the Pre-Raphaelite followers?

2. Does the medieval backdrop in the two paintings add to or diminish the historical accuracy of the piece? What about the designs of the boats?

3. Looking at St. Anne's Square and Elaine, one would hardly guess the two were by the same painter because of the different subjects and styles. The two share in common only their muted color palette. Should we consider Elaine an odd exception to Grimshaw's usual work, or does perhaps his romantic view of the medieval show this as an escape from the dreary modern city?

4. When depicting the same subject, Hughes, Waterhouse, Fripp, and Breakspeare chose backgrounds dominated by greenery. What might be said about the relation between each boat and the medieval city in Grimshaw's paintings? Is the city there merely to ground the work in a certain fantasy place, or does it add a certain tension between the people of the city and the isolated boat the in the foreground?


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Last modified 8 April 2007