In 1893, John William Waterhouse concluded an oil painting entitled La Belle Dame Sans Merci, in which the artist based on this initial study. The artwork was based on John Keats’s ballad written in 1819, translated from the original French as The Beautiful Lady Without Merci. The poet used the same title as Alain Chartier’s fifteenth-century poem, even though the storylines of the two works are different. Like many other painters, Waterhouse wished to portray his view of the English classic, as the poem is simply written but open to various interpretations.
In La Belle Dame Sans Merci, the Pre-Raphaelite artist depicts an intimate scene between a knight and a beautiful woman. The man stands on his knees in full armor, while she wraps her scarf around his neck, bringing him closer to her lips. He is helpless to her charm as she stares straight into his eyes. The dame sits barefoot on the grass and the skirt of her dress beautifully lays on the ground. She has golden blond hair, a lustful expression on her face, and wears her heart on her sleeve – at least on the sleeve of her dress. The couple is alone in the woods, surrounded by trees, flowers and bushes, and there is a peaceful river in the background as well.
The Study of La Belle Dame Sans Merci and the final painting, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, do not differ in composition, but in color scheme. The study is painted loosely and with less detail, featuring a bright and cheerful color palette. The woman is featured in a purple-blue long dress and her blond hair is almost confused with her scarf. The knight’s armor shines in with white, blue, and yellow pigments under the sunlight. The atmosphere is bright and natural.
On the final version, Waterhouse darkens and warms the entire scene in a drastic change in colors. The background is filled with dark brown trees and there is a lot more mysterious than in the study painting. Although the painted added much more detail, representing the figures in a realistic manner, the woman’s expression – the focal point of the painting – remains the same. Waterhouse was able to express his view of a classic poem into a beautiful visual love story in which captivates the audience.
Important Notes About Your Painting:
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