'Elaine', Sophie Anderson, 1870
Oil on canvas,
Accession Number WAG 110
Elaine fell in love with Sir Lancelot, one of King Arthur’s knights. He abandoned her in favour of Queen Guinevere; she died from unrequited love and here her faithful dumb servant is rowing her to King Arthur’s palace at Camelot. She is holding a lily, representing purity, and a letter expressing her undying love for Lancelot.
The artist’s source was Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King’ of 1859 which popularised the Arthurian romances in Victorian England. Few women artists dared to paint grand history pictures as early as 1870 and it may have been in recognition of this unusual achievement that the Liverpool City Council selected this major work by a female artist for purchase at the first of their Autumn Exhibition.