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Sarah Woodfine

27 Nov

‘Island’. Copyright Sarah Woodfine, 2010 (in front of William Maw Egley’s ‘Lady of Shallot’.)

is a new commission for the Graves Gallery by British artist Sarah Woodfine, in response to William Maw Egley’s Lady of Shallot (1858) in Sheffield’s art collection.

Through her work, Woodfine explores imaginary worlds that border between the familiar and fantastical. Her work centres on drawing, and often takes the form of three-dimensional constructions in cases and glass domes. They also exist as two-dimensional drawings sometimes encased in liquid filled domes.  She employs a wide variety of visual imagery exploring themes surrounding darkness and magic.

Sarah Woodfine’s new installation in the Graves Gallery includes life-size objects that explore the seclusion and fate of the Lady of Shallot.

About William Maw Egley’s Lady of Shallot:

William Maw Egley’s painting is based on one of Tennyson’s best-known poems featuring the figure of Elaine, the Fair Maid of Astolat.

After losing the Grail quest, Lancelot returns to Camelot. Arthur decrees a tournament at the land of Astolat and Lancelot follows incognito. While in Astolat, he lodges with the baron Bernard, whose daughter Elaine falls in love with him. During the tournament, Lancelot is gravely injured, his liver punctured, and goes back to Bernard where he is nursed by Elaine. She finally tells him of her love, and he refuses her. Devastated, she dies of a broken heart, and per her instructions, her family set her in a barge down the Thames. She is found by Arthur and Guenevere, the latter of whom is furious until she reads that Elaine died a virgin. Lancelot, filled with guilt, gives Elaine a lavish burial.

Tennyson retells this story faithfully in his Idylls of the King, but changes it radically in “The Lady of Shalott.” Here, Elaine (unnamed) is under a fairy spell on the Island of Shalott. She is imprisoned in a tower, and commanded never to look out the window, but to only a mirror which reflects the outside world. She is to weave a tapestry from what she sees in the mirror. One day she sees the reflection of Lancelot. His beauty causes her to turn around and look out of the window, and thus bring about her doom. Realising this, she takes her tapestry down to a boat, lays herself into the boat, and dies while sailing down the river towards Camelot.

The Lady of Shallot is the subject of numerous paintings, illustrations, and a fairly well-known song based on Tennyson’s poem.


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