John William Waterhouse produced a number of famous paintings depicting the scene of The Lady of Shalott, with the 1888 version being comfortably the most famous and artistically impressive. That composition features a young lady in a boat, slowly drifting through the English countryside. The 1894 version found in this page, plus another from 1891-1893 are near identical in composition, but vary in levels of completion. Both capture a pale young woman leaning over towards the viewer, stood in her home by a window. This later version is much more complete, suggesting that the artist had used the earlier painting as a method of studying and practicing for this later piece. He may even have been unhappy about elements of the earlier piece and decided to leave it incomplete, before trying again later.
We do know that in order to reach this 1894 creation, the artist went through a huge number of study pieces, not just the other painting mentioned earlier. He worked tirelessly from a number of sketchbooks, practicing individual elements of the composition again and again. Waterhouse also went as far as experimenting with both the pose of the model but also the set up of the scene around her. William Holman Hunt may well have provided some inspiration to Waterhouse for his work on this theme - this famous British artist had provided illustrations for a publication which also focused on poet Tennyson. Waterhouse arrived a generation later than the key members of the Pre-Raphaelites but his artistic style was so similar that many continue to include him within this group of artists.
The quality of the photograph of this original painting is unfortunately not up to the same standard as most other artworks in this website. That said, it is still worth including because of its link to his most famous painting as well as our desire to make this online collection as exhaustive as possible. We seek to improve this in the future, but access to the original may not be easy to organise. Some publications have superior photographs of both this and his earlier study painting and they give us the best hope.
Waterhouse's models were a crucial element of his ouevre. Their slim bodies and pale complexions was perfectly suited to an artist who followed one generation after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has formed. His style took the best of this movement and appended some of his own ideas and techniques. In terms of variety of mediums, Waterhouse was not as bold as others in this group. The likes of Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt, Morris and Millais would spread their creativity across tapestry, wallpaper, stained glass windows, furniture, textiles, murals and illustration.
Some of Waterhouse's earlier paintings were of a more classical nature, akin to the likes of Lawrence Alma Tadema but later he embraced the signature approach for which he is most famous - delicate scenes inspired by British poetry and literature. The work of Tennyson is, of course, the most significant.