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The subject of this painting is taken from Keats’ poem of 1819, a rather morbid meditation in which the knight is left ‘so haggard and so woe-begone’ after his encounter with ‘la belle dame sans merci.’ However, the only allusion here to a sinister outcome is the blighted leaves brushing the knight’s arm. The predominant mood is one of enchantment, intensified by the idyllic setting of the English countryside: 'I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful – a faery’s child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild… I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long; For side long would she bend, and sing A faery’s song.' A fascination with chivalry had lasted throughout the nineteenth century, typically combining romantic escapism with a cautionary note of the 'femme fatale'.
La belle dame sans merci
oil on canvas
H 137.2 x W 188 cm
gift from Mrs Yda Richardson, 1913