John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott (1888)

This oil painting is based on Tennyson’s 1832 ‘The Lady of Shalott’. The poem tells the tragic tale of an Arthurian maiden isolated in a tower, cursed to only ever see the world reflected through a mirror. When she one day glimpses Lancelot, she cannot resist looking at him directly, which causes the cursed mirror to crack. The painting (one of few Waterhouse ‘plein air’ paintings) illustrates her attempt to reach Camelot before the malediction kills her.

“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 on display at Tate Britain.