In the example of this particular painting, from 1915, Waterhouse made use of inspiration from the literature of Tennyson, an English poet of several generations previous. Interestingly, the artist actually made use of The Lady of Shalott for several different artworks, including this one and the world-famous The Lady of Shalott which continues to spearhead his oeuvre, a century later.
I am Half-Sick of Shadows quotes directly from towards the end of the poem. It features a young lady sat at her desk, weaving a detailed tapestry whilst thinking deeply about more significant matters. It is now housed in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and is one of several Waterhouse paintings to be owned outside of Europe. His work lost favour in the early 20th century, but has since enjoyed something of a resurgence, alongside members of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements, such as Holman Hunt, Millais and Frederic Leighton.
A further examination of the story itself reveals more about the painting - she is actually trapped in a tower at this point and decides to complete this embroidered item in order to occupy her mind, whilst waiting to be freed. Thankfully, Lancelot would later appear to entice her from the tower and create a happy ending.
The background elements of this piece continue the artist's preference for Roman-style building work, rather than Gothic. There is also a geometric pattern across the floor that he repeats in several other indoors scenes. The atmosphere of a young woman embroidering a design is charming to most and sums up the style of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
Waterhouse would use black and white tiled floors in this manner many times within his career, and perhaps took the idea from the domestic scenes found in the Dutch Golden Age. The artist was a master of combining classical culture, often Roman, with more recent British poetry. This fusion created a winning style that was highly regarded by the Victorian public.
If you look carefully, you will notice that the cityscape in the background is actually a reflection from a mirror on the wall, as elements of the tapestry in front of her are repeated within the same image. The model's arm folded behind her head reveals a continued frustration as her predicament, and so clearly her weaving project is not sufficiently occupying her mind.
Part of the charm around I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott is how it displays the craftwork skills of past centuries, something rarely seen today in the western world. Waterhouse's oeuvre in general allowed the public to escape to another time, as if entering a dream.
Large Image of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows said the Lady of Shalott
The detail added in this painting is truly exquisite. The larger image below best displays all of the items added by the artist, including the reflection of the fortified city walls in the background, as well as the stunning, half-finished embroidered tapestry. There is also a strong display of drapery used by the artist across the lady's dress, which is a resplendant red tone, with purple plumed sleeves.