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La Belle Iseult

Photo credit: Tate

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Notes

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This is the only completed easel painting that William Morris produced. It is a portrait in medieval dress of Jane Burden, whom Morris married in April 1859. The picture has been identified in the past as Queen Guenevere, partly owing to the fact that Morris published his first volume of poetry, 'The Defence of Guenevere', in March 1858. However, recent research has established convincingly that the picture is intended to represent Iseult mourning Tristram's exile from the court of King Mark. Iseult appears to have recently arisen from her bed, where a small greyhound lies curled up among the crumpled sheets. In 'Le Morte d'Arthur' (c.1470), the author, Sir Thomas Malory (c.1405–1471), reminds us that 'the queen had always a little brachet [bitch-hound] with her that Sir Tristram gave her the first time that ever she came into Cornwall, and never would that brachet depart from her but if Sir Tristram was nigh' (quoted in Banham and Harris, p.115). She stands wistfully in her small chamber, her feelings for Tristram reinforced by the sprigs of rosemary, symbolising remembrance, in her crown, and the word 'DOLOURS' (grief) written down the side of her mirror.

Tate

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More information

Date

1858

Medium

Oil on canvas

Measurements

H 71.8 x W 50.2 cm

Accession number

N04999

Acquisition method

Bequeathed by Miss May Morris 1939

Work type

Painting


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