Saturday, July 5, 2014

Eye Candy for Today: Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse

Original is in the Tate, Britain. There is a high-resolution zoomable image on the Google Art Project, and a downloadable version of that file on Wikimedia Commons.

I almost hesitated to feature this image; Waterhouse’s interpretation of the scene from Tennyson’s poem is so commonly reproduced, it’s almost a cliché — but the fact that there is a high-resolution version available online now is too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, though the reproductions on the Google Art Project are usually pretty good in terms of color balance — better in many cases than the images posted on the websites of the museums themselves — I don’t think that’s the case here.

I haven’t had the chance to see this painting in person (yet), but my instinct is that the version on the Tate website is more accurate in this case. The Google Art Project version seems dark and over-saturated in the reds.

I’ve used the Tate image as the full image (above, top), and then taken the liberty to adjust the color on the Google version to try to bring it a bit closer to that before using it for my detail crops.

Even if inaccurate, it’s a delight to see Waterhouse paintings reproduced in detail. You can find more high-res Google Art Project images of Waterhouse paintings here and here.

There is an article devoted to this painting on Wikipedia.

In that article and elsewhere, you will often see Waterhouse mentioned as a “Pre-Raphaelite” painter, but that’s not really accurate. Though he was certainly much influenced by them and shared many of their subjects, he was actually a generation younger, and adopted a much looser and more painterly approach.

For more, see some of my previous posts on John William Waterhouse.

9 thoughts on “Eye Candy for Today: Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott

  1. Melissa

    Cliche or not, I’ve always loved this image, especially the expression on her face. And looking at the details is instructive–those birds are wonderful.

  2. mark popple

    I have seen this painting many times, and although the last time was 7+ months ago my recollection of it is that you are correct. In the google version the darks are seem overly dark and the colour a bit too saturated. Hard to tell looking at a laptop though!

  3. Brian Harrison

    Thanks Charley, very nice to see this painting anytime :) I don`t see it so much as cliche as iconic – if one painting were to represent the paintings of this period ( movement ? ) this would be it.
    The original is stunning !!!!!

  4. Daniel van Benthuysen

    It was hardly a cliche — in fact it was all but overlooked — until the late 1960s and early 70s when the image was rediscovered through reproductions and newly embraced by a restless generation of counter-cultural protesters and ‘hippies,’ a generation for whom long hair, renaissance fairs or just the idea of hopping into a canoe was tantamount to rejecting the trappings of conventional middle-class values. (I include myself in this blanket observation, since I mean it in the nicest possible way.) And one can’t ignore that to that generation the noble lady also looked just a bit stoned.

  5. Charley Parker Post author

    Wow, man, that’s like, so.. profound, you know? It’s like a painting of a Renaissance Fair that’s so real that you can step into it, and then you realize it’s only a painting, but if you did step into it, you might get wet, unless you landed in the boat, or on the steps, but then… wait…, what was I saying?

  6. James Ramsdell

    Very interesting. I always thought this painting, which I’ve always admired greatly, was in the national gallery in Washington. They have a very large version which must be an earlier one. In that painting you can see where the reeds (rushes?) originally extended much further along to the front of the boat. Even though Waterhouse painting them out, he had used thick paint to create the reeds, and you can still see where they were. I always wondered why, in the photographs of this painting, you can’t pick this up. Now I know!

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