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Picturing a World

Lady of Shalott

Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” was the first poem I can remember choosing myself to memorize for school, and I still sometimes murmur, On either side the river lie/Long fields of barley and of rye …. When Jeanette is worried about Edward’s withdrawal, I thought of having her paint the Lady at her loom with a heedless Lancelot outside the window. Remembering a Pre-Raphaelite picture of the subject, I checked on line for the image and was astounded to find this drawing by Lizzie Siddal. It certainly confirmed my impulse to have Jeanette paint the topic.

Lizzie may not be a household name in many families, but she is in ours because my husband wrote his doctoral dissertation on the poet and painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Siddal was Rossetti’s model, pupil, mistress, and wife. When she died, he placed manuscripts of his unpublished poems in her coffin but later had the coffin exhumed so that he could retrieve it. All very ghoulish and lurid. (John and I could not resist going to see pages from it on display one time at Houghton Library at Harvard.)

I imagine Jeanette as a stronger draftsman than Lizzie. Nevertheless, her painting is not successful enough for Carolus-Duran to endorse it as a submission to the Salon of 1880. Perhaps, as her career in magazine illustration progresses in America, she should produce something influenced by Howard Pyle’s illustrations of the poem?
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