Last week I didn't post here because I was in Montreal...while I was there, I happened upon an incredible art exhibit, a retrospective of one of my favorite painters of all time, John William Waterhouse, "the modern Pre-Raphaelite." Pre-Raphaelite because of his subjects from mythology and modern because of his naturalistic, free-brushwork techniques and the stark drama of his poses, often confronting the viewer or challenging our perception of space and "the plane."
Waterhouse interests me beyond the beauty of his work because like my beloved Victorian lady-authors, he deals with the conflicting themes of female strength and entrapment, power and domesticity, beauty and transgression. All of these themes play out to varying degrees in his paintings of mythic ladies, sorceresses, nymphs, magic-practicers and queens.
The coolest thing for me about the exhibit was that all three Lady of Shalott paintings were together in one room. If you don't know the story of the Lady of Shalott, it's an Arthurian legend about a young woman doomed to sit in a tower spinning thread, who can only look at the world through a mirror. But when she sees Lancelot riding by in its reflection, she has an awakening of, err, desire to join the world, is put under a curse, dies, and floats down the river towards Camelot. Yep, there are some subtexts and undertones there alright! The Tennyson poem has just been posted below so you can cross reference it with the paintings. Here they are, in order of the date painted and also the story: restless captivity, sexual awakening and entrapment, despair and impending death.
I encourage you to click over to www.jwwaterhouse.com, where I got the images, to learn more about him.
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