This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Demystifying The Tragic Symbolism In This Painting From 1888

Every Painting Tells A Story

Today marks the final instalment of our collaboration with the National Gallery of Australia, celebrating Love & Desiretheir incredible exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces, on in Canberra until April 28th!

We close this series by illuminating the tragic story depicted in one of the exhibition’s most powerful and emotive works – The Lady Of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, painted in 1888.

21st February, 2019

Photo – Eve Wilson, Styling – Stephanie Stamatis, Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Eve Wilson, Styling – Stephanie Stamatis, Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Eve Wilson, Styling – Stephanie Stamatis, Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Eve Wilson, Styling – Stephanie Stamatis, Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Eve Wilson, Styling – Stephanie Stamatis, Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

The Lady Of Shalott by John William Waterhouse.

Lucy Feagins
Thursday 21st February 2019

Her life is over; she is the fallen leaf – and a fallen woman.

The painters of the pre-raphaelite period often took inspiration from religion, theatre, and literature, depicting powerful and tragic tales in rich detail.

The Lady Of Shalott, painted by John William Waterhouse in 1888, depicts the tragic events from Alfred Tennyson’s poem the same name. Tennyson’s poem, first published in 1832, describes the plight of a woman who is confined in a tower and cursed, and whose desperate attempt to escape seals her eventual fate;

With a steady stony glance–
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance–
She look’d down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

According to the poem, the Lady of Shalott is imprisoned on the island of Shalott, and is allowed to see the outside world only through its reflection in a mirror. She is doomed to spend her days weaving these reflected observations into a tapestry.

Harbouring unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot, The Lady one day catches a glimpse of him in her mirror, and cannot resist glancing at him directly. A curse is instantly placed upon her!

In Waterhouse’s richly detailed painting, our heroine is depicted in her final moments, having defied the terms of her imprisonment, and attempting to flee via the river. Appearing in trance-like state (with a ‘glassy countenance’, as described by Tennyson), there is a sense of quiet desperation in her expression.

The chain symbolises her oppression and incarceration – as The Lady of Shallot loosens it, she seals her fate.

Draped over the boat is a tapestry, representing the tapestry woven by The Lady during her imprisonment, depicting scenes relevant to Tennyson’s text.

On the end of the boat are three candles, which symbolise life. Two of the candles are extinguished, signifying that death is soon to come. Alongside these are a crucifix and rosary: funerary symbols, which represent sacrifice and martyrdom.

Look closely and spot a single fallen leaf, resting delicately on The Lady’s lap. Her life is over; she is the fallen leaf – and a fallen woman.

Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate
December 14th, 2018 to April 28th, 2019
National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Pl E, Parkes
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
For more information and tickets, click here.

This Week

On The Market

An Interior Designer’s 1930s South Yarra Home Is Up For Sale!

One of South Yarra’s tightly held 1930s homes has hit the market, featuring a masterful renovation by its interior designer owner.
Amelia Barnes
  8 hours ago

Architecture

An Extraordinary Transformation For This Heritage Sandstone Home

A dilapidated 1870's home in Sydney's Balmain East is restored and extended, with a new concrete addition by Benn + Penna Architecture.
Amelia Barnes
  Less than an hour ago

Art

Paul Maher’s Paintings Dwell On The Fringes Of Urban Wilderness

The Newcastle artist paints calm, reflective scenes of life on the edge of human habitats, for his second solo exhibition at Saint Cloche.
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

An 'Upside Down' Family Home Floating Among The Treetops

A tired 1980s residence in Sydney has been transformed into a serene family home, at the hands of Nobbs Radford Architects.
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

A Contemporary Farmhouse In Suburban Melbourne!

MRTN Architects design a farmhouse suitable for suburbia in Melbourne's Fairfield!

News

Major European Designer Furniture On Sale Right Now At DOMO!

Craving a home spruce? DOMO has got you covered with up to 70% off selected furniture + homewares collections.
Sponsored

Shopping

Krof Cutlery Brings The Elegance Of Fine Dining To Your Home

A design expert and restaurateur join forces to launch a sleek, high-quality Australian cutlery brand.
Sasha Gattermayr

Times Like These

Times Like These... With TDF Editor-In-Chief Lucy Feagins

Our very own founder and editor shares some of the ups and downs of the last few months.

Homes

A Waterfront Home In Sydney That Defines 'Approachable Luxury'

The 1880s sandstone home of interior designer Linda Habak and family in Hunters Hill, faithfully extended by Campbell Architecture.

Gardens

A Suburban Backyard Transformed Into A Lush Garden Retreat

Mud Office complements a modern Ivanhoe extension with this magnificent green retreat!
Sasha Gattermayr
  24 hours ago

Giveaway

Sounds Like Home - WIN The Ultimate Home Sound System From Sonos!

To get you through winter we’ve teamed up with Sonos, with a huge prize worth $2936 – Including Sonos' new premium new soundbar, Arc!

Art

This Sculpture Collaboration Is A Match Made In Heaven!

Artist Kate Florence and sculptor Lucas Wearne of Neighbourhood Studio collaborate on a collection of hand-painted, one-off sculptures.
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

A Home Purpose Built For A Woman And Her Cat!

A heritage cottage in Fitzroy North carefully restored and renovated by Atlas Architects.
Sasha Gattermayr

News

A Free Virtual Art Fair Is Coming!

Melbourne Art Fair unveils a digital program of free exhibitions, studio tours + panel events!
Sponsored

Architecture

A Voluminous, Contemporary Home Behind A Modest Heritage Facade

A heritage weatherboard is extended and transformed by Tecture, future proofing this home for a family of six.
Sasha Gattermayr

View Comments

Similar Stories

Every Painting Tells A Story

Uncovering The Hidden Symbolism In NGA's New Blockbuster: 'Love & Desire'

Our collaboration with National Gallery of Australia, celebrating their incredible new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from London...

Art

10 Unmissable Art Exhibitions of 2019

Our pick of not-to-be-missed art exhibitions for 2019, Australia wide – clear the calendar!
Miriam McGarry

Every Painting Tells A Story

This Painting From 1862 Reveals A Dramatic, Cautionary Tale!

A family loses their fortune in dramatic circumstances, in this captivating work from the National Gallery of Australia's 'Love & Desire' ex...

This Week

Giveaway

Sounds Like Home - WIN The Ultimate Home Sound System From Sonos!

To get you through winter we’ve teamed up with Sonos, with a huge prize worth $2936 – Including Sonos' new premium new soundbar, Arc!

Gardens

A Suburban Backyard Transformed Into A Lush Garden Retreat

Mud Office complements a modern Ivanhoe extension with this magnificent green retreat!
Sasha Gattermayr
  24 hours ago

Architecture

A Voluminous, Contemporary Home Behind A Modest Heritage Facade

A heritage weatherboard is extended and transformed by Tecture, future proofing this home for a family of six.
Sasha Gattermayr

Homes

A Waterfront Home In Sydney That Defines 'Approachable Luxury'

The 1880s sandstone home of interior designer Linda Habak and family in Hunters Hill, faithfully extended by Campbell Architecture.

Architecture

An 'Upside Down' Family Home Floating Among The Treetops

A tired 1980s residence in Sydney has been transformed into a serene family home, at the hands of Nobbs Radford Architects.
Sasha Gattermayr

On The Market

An Interior Designer’s 1930s South Yarra Home Is Up For Sale!

One of South Yarra’s tightly held 1930s homes has hit the market, featuring a masterful renovation by its interior designer owner.
Amelia Barnes
  8 hours ago

Art

This Sculpture Collaboration Is A Match Made In Heaven!

Artist Kate Florence and sculptor Lucas Wearne of Neighbourhood Studio collaborate on a collection of hand-painted, one-off sculptures.
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

A Contemporary Farmhouse In Suburban Melbourne!

MRTN Architects design a farmhouse suitable for suburbia in Melbourne's Fairfield!

News

A Free Virtual Art Fair Is Coming!

Melbourne Art Fair unveils a digital program of free exhibitions, studio tours + panel events!
Sponsored

Times Like These

Times Like These... With TDF Editor-In-Chief Lucy Feagins

Our very own founder and editor shares some of the ups and downs of the last few months.

Shopping

Krof Cutlery Brings The Elegance Of Fine Dining To Your Home

A design expert and restaurateur join forces to launch a sleek, high-quality Australian cutlery brand.
Sasha Gattermayr

Art

Paul Maher’s Paintings Dwell On The Fringes Of Urban Wilderness

The Newcastle artist paints calm, reflective scenes of life on the edge of human habitats, for his second solo exhibition at Saint Cloche.
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

An Extraordinary Transformation For This Heritage Sandstone Home

A dilapidated 1870's home in Sydney's Balmain East is restored and extended, with a new concrete addition by Benn + Penna Architecture.
Amelia Barnes
  Less than an hour ago

News

Major European Designer Furniture On Sale Right Now At DOMO!

Craving a home spruce? DOMO has got you covered with up to 70% off selected furniture + homewares collections.
Sponsored

Architecture

A Home Purpose Built For A Woman And Her Cat!

A heritage cottage in Fitzroy North carefully restored and renovated by Atlas Architects.
Sasha Gattermayr

Similar Stories

Every Painting Tells A Story

Uncovering The Hidden Symbolism In NGA's New Blockbuster: 'Love & Desire'

Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from London's Tate Gallery, on show in Canberra.

Art

10 Unmissable Art Exhibitions of 2019

Our pick of not-to-be-missed art exhibitions for 2019, Australia wide – clear the calendar!
Miriam McGarry

Every Painting Tells A Story

This Painting From 1862 Reveals A Dramatic, Cautionary Tale!

A family loses their fortune in dramatic circumstances, in this captivating work from the National Gallery of Australia's 'Love & Desire' ex...