Lady Charlotte: Victorian Women in Pre-Raphaelite Paintbrush

  In the mid-19th century, when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was established in England, its founders advocated an anti-academic artistic tendency—the integration of morality and realism into the brush. This art movement in the oil painting world was originally developed by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and Dante Gabriel Initiated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), its followers grew over time, eventually following Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). ), the school changed from an initial emphasis on the strict precision of paintings to a symbolic representation of social morality. Later, with the development of the movement, the moral concepts that the early Pre-Raphaelites, especially the Hunter period, were fascinated by, gradually became secondary in the pursuit of beauty. In fact, the three artists founded the Brotherhood because they believed that contemporary academic art had become too artificial, and they strived to emulate an early Italian concept of art – “the naive character of candor and natural elegance” ” to replace it. The popularity of this idea is also related to the idea advocated by the famous Victorian literary critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) – the study of nature in depth and detail rather than generalization. William Hogarth ((1697-1764)) was the founder of the movement, whose satirical prints inspired moralizing. The themes of Pre-Raphaelite paintings vary by individual artist, but often include general issues such as love tragedies or religious themes; at the same time, more artists have also found art in literature, past and present Inspiration.
Tennyson’s “Lady Charlotte”

  In fact, the classical poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) was especially popular among the Brotherhood, and the three founders, as well as many of the Pre-Raphaelite followers, were Woodcuts are provided as illustrations for Moxon’s compilation of Tennyson’s poetry, 1857. Hunt and Rossetti both illustrated Tennyson’s love story “The Lady of Shalott,” though they depicted two different storylines. Tennyson’s poems tell the tragic story of Charlotte, a girl initially imprisoned in a tower and cut off from the outside world; the moment she decides to run away, her fate is predetermined – only death awaits her. While Tennyson’s poems describe tragic love, the love paintings of Pre-Raphaelite artists, in the social context of the Victorian era, often reveal their personal understanding and moral meaning. Pre-Raphaelite painters explained the role and predicament of women in the culture of the times through their depiction of the girl Charlotte. The fact that different artists depict specific narrative moments in the poems actually illuminates their different interpretations of the status of women. In British Victorian society, with women increasingly becoming important saviours of the precious domestic realm, paintings like “Lady Charlotte” implicitly demonstrate the tension between women’s private desires and real social responsibilities, and where male artists stand on the issue.

Lord Alfred Tennyson

  Tennyson’s poem “Lady Charlotte” tells the story of a cursed and imprisoned in a tower on Charlotte Island, an unnamed girl (the girl has no name because she is a noble lady on the small island of Charlotte, She is called by the island’s name), the tower is located in the river flowing to Camelot. No one knew of her existence, and because of the curse, she was forbidden to leave the tower, or even to look out the window. On the contrary, there is a large mirror in her room, reflecting the outside world, and through the mirror’s picture, she weaves tapestries and draws the wonders of the world. As the story progresses, the girl Charlotte gradually realizes that the outside world is full of love. She is tired of living alone in the tower and laments, “I hate this image.” On one occasion, Lady Charlotte saw Sir Lancelot ride to Camelot, and she impulsively left the loom and looked down at him directly from the window, an act that instantly fulfilled the curse—her tapestry burst, The mirror shattered, she cried, “I’m doomed”. Charlotte fled the tower, found a boat in the river, carved her name on it, and released it from its mooring. Before her ship arrives in Camelot, before she finds her life and love, girl Charlotte’s curse is fulfilled – she dies. When the inhabitants of the riverbank gathered around her body, Sir Lancelot also saw the beauty of this unknown girl, and meditated and lamented. The poignant tragedy of love depicted in Tennyson’s poems attracted the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers as one of the favorite subjects of British painters of the 19th and 20th centuries. From the second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 50 works of art about “Lady Charlotte”. By the end of the 19th century, Lady Charlotte “has become a sociocultural concept, not just a narrative archetype; she has become a romantic idiom, a quotable mantra.” Attracted Pre-Raphaelite painters, mainly including the emphasis on the following: “Spiritual sublime and sadness in love, such as unrequited love, especially those women who are imprisoned or isolated or helpless; die for love women who have given up everything for love; women who are ‘defiled’ or ‘cursed’;
  According to Victorian social morals, “Lady Charlotte” shows a woman who gives up social responsibility in pursuit of love. But different moments in the story evoke different visual cues, as can be seen in the multiple versions of these paintings. For example, Hunter chose to depict the moment when the mirror shatters and the curse falls; Waterhouse shows the lady unchaining the boat; John La Farge’s version of the lady is dead on the boat; In Rossetti’s painting, the moment when the girl arrives in Camelot and Lancelot discovers her is chosen. The selection of these unique moments all involve different emotions that the artist emphasizes. Although Pre-Raphaelite artists had various interpretations of the girl, at its most basic level, Tennyson’s poem describes an ancient myth of dying for love because the girl Charlotte became her Martyr of love never experienced.

  It is worth noting that Tennyson’s poems place more emphasis on the lady’s surroundings, her tower and the outside world, than on the lady herself; Tennyson also does not specify the cause and meaning of the curse. In poetry, she expresses her inner thoughts only twice: once when she consciously looks out the window, and once when she realizes what she is doing. Tennyson casts her as a passive figure, surrounded by her surroundings, defined and contained by her responsibilities. He focuses the reader’s attention on the woman’s external condition, “the contrast between her inner world and the outer world, between stillness and movement, between active and contemplative life, encourages the reader to think deeply about the relationship between the two worlds. differences between the two.” This certainly underscores the different Victorian beliefs about the private and public spheres, each involving a different gender. The inside of the family belongs to women, while the active outside world belongs to men. The poem “replicates, in a medieval context, the ideology of the Victorian sphere of independence…women’s work is at home, while the active world outside is reserved for men”. Although Tennyson’s poem is set in the Middle Ages, the principles in the poem are equally applicable to Victorian society. Girl Charlotte can only stay within the confines of her tower and cannot have any active personal pursuits. This fits perfectly with the concept of an actual Victorian woman, who society expected her to be in the angelic role of protector of the family. In fact, “Lady Charlotte” “perfectly embodies the ideal of the Victorian woman: virgin, entrusted, spiritual and mysterious, dedicated to the female task.” She is free of any aggression or threat, completely undestructive The realm of men is imprisoned in the tower, isolated from the outside world, and has no independent thinking. However, “in her observations of Camelot and the outside world, the lady dared to seek proof of her own identity in a space reserved for men.” The girl fled the tower, and death became the punishment for her misconduct Consequences, “it is reasonable to infer that part of their function is to suggest the vulnerability of women, the trials and punishments they face after stepping out of their designated realm.” Lady Charlotte’s story can both evoke sympathy for her tragic death, It can also be a wake-up call to the punishment for her dereliction of duty. This provided further impetus for the artistic creation of Pre-Raphaelite artists, who could express their views on women’s place in society and the family through their personal artwork.
The Victorian Female Theme of Pre-Raphaelite

  Lady Charlotte is related to other Victorian women portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelites, especially those passive female characters in 19th-century England. These paintings usually depict women sitting in contemplation by a window or in a gazebo, as in Rossetti’s Girlhood of Mary Virgin. Rossetti favored the theme of “My Fair Lady”, with particular emphasis on the contemplative nature of women. These works, such as “A Portrait of Jane Morris” and “The Queen of Hearts,” show the passive and isolated beauty of women. The backgrounds of these paintings are mostly blank or purely decorative, stripping the subject from the active realm. Rossetti’s portrayal of Lady Lilith also looks in the mirror like Lady Charlotte, but for a different purpose. Imprisoned in her gazebo, Lady Lilith connects her beauty and strength with nature. As she gazes in the mirror, she inspires contemplation on the power of beauty. Girl Charlotte looks in the mirror only to see the reflection of the outside world, and she is not involved; the reflection in the mirror is a reminder of her lack of power, her passivity and her imprisonment. As Ms. Lilith gazes in the mirror, she becomes more and more self-conscious, but for Charlotte, the reflection in the mirror only makes her aware of everything else. Another of Tennyson’s poems, “Mariana,” about a woman waiting for her lover to return, reiterated women’s feelings of loneliness and lack of sexual satisfaction. In Mallory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur” and Tennyson’s “The Arthurian Legends,” Elaine’s story is similar to that of Charlotte’s, both of whom Lancelot’s love, and died on the boat sailing to Camelot, the only difference being that Elaine’s version added a boatman. In addition to the moral message and allusions to women conveyed by these works, many depictions also exist for male consumption. In Hunter’s version of “Charlotte,” for example, “she performs Arabian dances, her hair is wild, and her oriental shoes are inadvertently thrown aside. She is a sensual woman, the sumptuous, extravagant character of Hunter’s paintings. part of the scene for the male audience to see and enjoy.” This aesthetic interpretation makes women the idealized model.
  Depictions of fallen women also became particularly popular. The prostitute represents a city transformed by the influence of commerce and industrialization, her behavior reminiscent of Victorian pollution and disease. The word “fallen” refers to their fall from their dignified position. Pre-Raphaelite artists found ample opportunity to create scenes that illustrate their humble state based on relevant issues of Victorian England. Augustus Egger’s “Past and Present” series of paintings about the fate of an adulterous woman caught by her husband. The first image shows her husband reading a letter, presumably about her infidelity, with the woman prostrate on the floor in front of him. The two daughters are young in the first scene and teens in the second, sitting alone in an empty room. The last one shows the mother hugging her illegitimate child, curled up under the bridge. The series aptly showcases the consequences of this woman’s failure to fulfill her role as mother and devoted wife: Not only was she driven into the streets, but her daughters were forced into poverty. Like Charlotte, her dereliction of duty resulted in a personal death. This was the case due to the prevalence of social problems in England at the time: “A psychological need to retreat to a safe home where precious spiritual values ​​can be protected and preserved…Women as family It has an unimaginable importance to the mental health of the whole family.”

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)

  Iger’s sentiments in the “Past and Present” series reaffirmed Victorian society’s perception of women who transcended their pre-determined roles. A more hopeful perspective is Hunt’s portrayal of a foster woman’s moment of repentance in “The Awakening Conscience.” She stood up from the man’s feet and looked at the world outside the window, which was her redemption. In her case, unlike Charlotte, the outside world offered her salvation, an opportunity to escape from a condemning situation. Society disapproves of this woman’s actions because she is not fulfilling her duties as a woman. The woman in “Awakened Conscience” “looks out at the pure spring of the outdoors (symbolizing redemption), while our lady looks down, back to her safe indoors, but it’s too late, the forbidden windows and the world of the outdoors , symbolizing her depravity.” This reversal underscores the fact that, despite their different circumstances, both women were bound by the cultural moral codes of Victorian society.

“Lady Charlotte” by Pre-Raphaelite

  It took Hunter 20 years from 1886 to 1905 to finally complete the painting “Lady Charlotte,” whose eyesight deteriorated so badly in his later years that the work had to finally be painted by Arthur Hughes To be done. During his career, he created three versions of Lady Charlotte, the last being the largest and most famous. There are subtle changes between the three versions, although the basic composition remains the same. In the final version, Charlotte is standing there in shock, the threads of her tapestry flying up and wrapping around her body, making the loose garment cling to her body and lifting the hem of her skirt, Showing her underwear. Unlike the frail, scrawny women typical of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Hunter endowed his girl Charlotte with weight and strength. Her majesty suggests strength and control, not weakness and helplessness. Hunter reinforces this by pushing the woman into the center of the frame, allowing her to take up most of the space in the scene. She wore an unusual peacock-coloured top that mimicked Hunter’s wife’s shirt. Charlotte looked at her wasted work with a look of contempt on her face. Her golden loom also takes up most of the room, framed beyond the boundaries of the frame, with the girl herself standing inside. In the lower half of the frame, the bright sun shines on the loom and balls of colored thread, glittering in gold.
  There is a lot of detail in the whole scene, the lower right corner has the girl’s discarded shoes, the petals are scattered next to it, and the pre-Raphaelite Art Deco tea set. Some of this is to draw the viewer in on the composition and create a sense of balance. This “intensity of vision” drew many comments during Hunter’s lifetime, as his paintings were more detailed than other members of the Brotherhood. This allows the viewer to examine the painting more closely, paying attention to the variety of details. The work is considered Hunter’s ultimate for its richness of color and detail.

The Awakening Conscience (1851-1853) William Holman Hunter

The Lady of Shalott (1886-1905) William Holman Hunter

  Hunter’s portrayal of Charlotte clearly departs from the meaning of Tennyson’s tragic love poem. For Hunter, the poem encapsulates “the individual’s failure to take responsibility…in her solitude she is called upon to approach life with a supreme thought and great judgment.” According to Victoria’s Social norms, women’s responsibility lies in accepting a passive role in life. So she had to weave, which happened to fit the established duties of a Victorian woman; but as she sought a direct experience of the world, she encountered death. Charlotte crossed her boundaries into the male realm, hoping to experience life directly, but an unseen force, the curse she suffered, forbade her to do so. Victorian women were like that, socially confined to the domestic sphere. Hunter changed the poem so much that “the romantic curse, the mysterious unknown, in Tennyson’s poem was changed into a guise of discipline”. Hunter’s drawing seems to support the punishment of Charlotte, as she responds not with fear but with defiance, “she is expressing her anger, frustration and anger to us, while, in Hunter’s moral model, She is resisting her punishment.”
  Waterhouse’s most famous painting, “Lady Charlotte,” from 1888, depicts her leaving the island in a small boat. Her hand is loosely holding the chain moored on the shore, looking at the water with a loss of loss, her expression is sad and desperate, and the description of this scene matches Tennyson’s description. Waterhouse hangs Charlotte’s tapestry haphazardly on the bottom of the boat, the edges dragging in the water. One of the designs on the tapestry is of Lancelot and his men riding horses, and the other is of the girl herself standing in front of the castle, presumably referring to her expected arrival in Camelot. Two of the three candles have been extinguished, and the cross on the bow adds to the sadness of the funeral. The background of the picture is mostly dense trees and leaves, which is more dark and blurred. In the picture, Waterhouse clearly deviates from the precision of the Pre-Raphaelites in depicting nature. Waterhouse’s 1888 version, one of the few solitary scenes of the period depicting a woman alone, underscores her vulnerability. At this time, Charlotte was at the mercy of the outside world, not in a safe tower, and was especially weak and helpless. Instead of condemning Charlotte, however, the scene evokes pity in the viewer. In contrast to Hunter’s paintings, Waterhouse did not publicly endorse or condemn her actions, but more sympathy. Hunter’s portrayal of Charlotte focuses on a narrative moment in Tennyson’s poem, while Waterhouse’s version emphasizes emotional catharsis.

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

  Two other versions of Waterhouse’s “Lady Charlotte” put her in the tower again. The 1894 version is closely related in composition to Hunt’s version, with the figure of the woman making up most of the scene; but here she looks beyond the viewer and out the window. Her dominance of the scene leads to the lack of detail in the room. The background is darker, making it appear blurry and clearly less important than Charlotte herself. When Lancelot appeared, the mirror had already begun to crack. Waterhouse showed the pinnacle of the girl, and like Hunter’s version, the thread of the tapestry had been wrapped around her lap. Charlotte didn’t seem to have time to react at this time, lost in her long-awaited gaze. Waterhouse uses a looser brushstroke that reflects the ephemeral side, and, “Waterhouse’s work feels more sensual in its soft application and fluid, painterly texture. The quick Impressionist paint processing creates a sense of dynamism and urgency not found in Hunter’s picture…Waterhouse creates a more immediate, intimate effect. His girl looks eagerly at the viewer, just Like rounded up animals.”
  Rather than simply portraying her as a fallen woman, Waterhouse imbues his Charlotte with an emotional depth that in turn affects the audience. In his 1888 version, Waterhouse does not condemn Charlotte, but evokes compassion in the viewer. Tennyson himself described her expression as “a nascent love for something, a love for someone in the wide world who has been so far away from this world, that brings her from the shadows into reality”. Waterhouse does not seem to blame her, despite the similarities in composition, “Waterhouse’s emphasis on seduction and betrayal was a central theme in his other works of the period; while Hunter was ostensibly concerned with morality The punishment.” In the late Victorian era, the romantic sentimentality pervades Waterhouse’s version, which matches the religious morality that runs through Hunter’s version.

  Waterhouse painted his final version in 1911, entitled I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. The girl looked up from the loom and stared out the window. She wore a bright red dress reminiscent of the bright hues of the early days of Pre-Raphaelite. Her pose is reminiscent of Millais’ “Mariana,” with both women stretching from the braid. The room has neither the luxury of Hunt nor the lack of detail of the scenes in earlier versions of Waterhouse. The brightness of the room allows more detail to stand out, and Waterhouse emphasizes the alluring scene in the mirror, where a bridge connects her island to the outside world. A pair of young lovers appeared in the reflection, and the girl had not yet looked out of the window, as if to emphasize her perpetually tedious work. For Hunter, this boredom and dissatisfaction gives him enough reason to condemn Charlotte, but in three versions of Waterhouse he focuses more on the tragedy of love.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (1911) John William Waterhouse

  Sidney Harold Metyard’s version of Charlotte, more sympathetic to the fate of women. This version “represents a more compassionate response by women to a society dominated by patriarchal values ​​and ethics.” The woman lay languidly on the tapestry with her eyes closed , she leaned back, Lancelot on a horse clearly drawn on the tapestry. Metyard focused on her figure and other details consisted only of flowers and some woven items. At the edge of the scene, a crystal ball rests on a shelf that seems to reflect the outside world, presumably a blurred image of a young couple. Metyard’s version is freer in the details of the scene, and the rich blue tones make the scene beautiful and quite luxurious. The girl, with her eyes closed, seems to indulge in dreams and contemplation, “emphasizing the sensual emotions of the girl’s sexual awakening”. While other artists’ drawings of girls follow medieval traditions, Metyard is more modern. Metyard made a stronger statement about Victorian society, “She was confined within the confines of a repressed family, with a suffocating greenhouse atmosphere of luxury and wealth, from which she was powerless to escape. She reflected the middle-class woman of the Edwardian era. situation.” Metyard directly applies Charlotte’s situation to real-life contemporary women who are frustrated with their confinement but unable to escape in any socially acceptable way. Metyard’s bold, unconventional portrayal of Charlotte shows he doesn’t want to be neutral on the issue — he doesn’t support socially mandated roles for women.

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)

  The story of Lady Charlotte attracted followers of the Pre-Raphaelite movement for its themes of tragic love and the death of beautiful women. But issues surrounding the concept of female identity and independence gave the woman’s image a deeper meaning in Victorian society. Charlotte abandoned her obligations in pursuit of the love and freedom she really wanted. Meanwhile, under a mysterious curse, she is trapped in the tower and becomes a slave to an unknown force. In contemporary social culture, the situation of women presents striking similarities, as society requires women to play the role of family angels. Society despised the depraved woman because she chose to pursue a depraved life while also pursuing more independence, which traditional society saw as a threat and danger, and ultimately, Lady Charlotte suffered her death. Artists’ attitudes towards Lady Charlotte reflect their views on the issue: morally virtuous William Holman Hunter portrayed the lady as aggressive and slightly frantic, condemning her negligence . In all three of her paintings, Waterhouse portrays her as a romantic and sentimental woman, a woman conquered by love. In the end, Metyard expressed sympathy for Charlotte’s confinement, arguing that she was trapped both physically and emotionally. Hunter, a true Pre-Raphaelite and one of the founders of the Brotherhood, seems to have adopted the most conservative treatment of the work; but as the movement has changed in subject matter and style, a stance on women has gradually taken place changes, reflected in the paintings of Waterhouse and Metyard. Pre-Raphaelite’s portrayal of the truth of modern life is well reflected in Tennyson’s portrayal of Lady Charlotte. Through these works, the artists subtly comment on the status of women in Victorian society.