Considering the scale and emotional impact of a drawing I’m currently making, I found myself thinking of John William Waterhouse’s painting The Lady of Shalott. It is so dramatically sorrowful, and it is also so close to the perfect size: large enough to surround you and yet small enough to feel a part of. It is a high-frequency romantic narrative, crossing time and space and shooting a flaming arrow into my bright, balmy Australian teenage bedroom, blinds drawn. It’s also a lot to do with her eyes: darkly inward looking and, astonishingly, as vividly red as her hair.
Upon finishing school and working out what to do with my life, I promptly left home and moved into a somewhat disastrous flatshare in Bondi Beach, Sydney. I attempted the hippy, beach version of the Pre-Raphaelite female – all long hair, dangling garnets and strappy hemp dresses. I’m not sure it helped. I escaped to the northern hemisphere, travelling through Europe and living in London for several years before returning to study. Somewhere, from this time, there’s a photo taken of me standing in front of The Lady of Shalott. I think I asked a stranger to take it.
The new drawing of mine is the exact size of The Lady of Shalott. It is an adult homage to my teenage self. Living in London again, I go to see this great painting whenever I visit Tate Britain, and remain touched by the intense feeling and narrative power within it. The palette and landscape, once so foreign, are now for a million reasons so familiar.
The Lady of Shalott was presented by Sir Henry Tate in 1894. The painting will be back on display at Tate Britain in the autumn.
Donna Huddleston is an artist who lives and works in London. Exhibitions of her work will be shown at Charles Asprey - Tyers Street, London, 2 May – 8 June and at Drawing Room, London, 28 November – 9 February 2020.