Published in Tennyson's A Dream of Fair Women and Other Poems

Line drawing reproduced photomechanically (photo-zinc or gelatine process) on paper

7 x 5 in. (17.7 x 12.7 cm.)

Signed and dated lower left: Edmund J. Sullivan '99

Lent by the University of Kansas Libraries.

Edmund J. Sullivan, a well-known British illustrator of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, represents Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" in an entirely unique and personal way that provides an interesting contrast to William Holman Hunt's depiction. As a youth Sullivan studied under his father, Michael, and received his first employment as an illustrator in 1889 from William Thomas for a new periodical, the Daily Graphic. He illustrated his first book, George Borrow's Lavengro, in 1896. Sullivan received three other commissions for books that same year, quickly establishing himself as an outstanding illustrator of the period especially adept at visualizing fantastic subject matter, such as H. G. Wells's "Stories of the Days to Come" in the Pall Mall Magazine, 1899. Sullivan lectured on book illustration and lithography at Goldsmith College and wrote two books on the subject, The Art of Illustration (Chapman and Hall, 1921) and Line (Chapman and Hall, 1922), which secured his lasting influence.

As an illustrator Edmund Sullivan had gained sufficient prestige to enable him to select the poems for A Dream of Fair Women and choose the verses to illustrate, a freedom he had already enjoyed in 1898 with the publication of Sartor Resartus, which he described as a "holiday" from the conditions that normally restrict the artist (quoted Thorpe, p. 25). For "The Lady of Shalott," Sullivan preferred to depict the reapers awed by the Lady's song as it drifted from her tower window down to the fields rather than represent one of the more commonly chosen scenes, like the moment of climax or the Lady in her boat. His unusual choice of moment reflects Sullivan's personal philosophy of book illustration. In reference to Sartor Resartus (Complete illustrations), in which he also avoided more popular subjects, he has stated, "Since everyone sees the subject so luminously for himself, in my view an illustrator is unnecessary and would probably clash with the reader's own conception" (quoted Thorpe, p. 25). Sullivan therefore turned to more obscure scenes and endeavored to render them "concrete" for the reader (Dream of Fair Women , p. ix). In this way the illustrator aids the reader's understanding while maintaining complete independence from the reader's preconceptions.

Sullivan's Lady of Shalott exhibits his characteristic use of bold, freely drawn line to outline shape and indicate contour as well as tone. Sullivan's careful study of the Pre-Raphaelite illustrators, especially Millais, whom Sullivan greatly admired, appears in his placement of the figures in the immediate foreground, his obscuring the background with the central figure and a high horizon line, and his utilization of a particular drawing style and single, pivotal figure to convey mood.

His treatment of the figures is nevertheless startling. Their portrayal is much more realistic than one would expect in an illustration for a poem set in a world of enchanted unreality, the legendary land of Camelot. Sullivan believed that "no matter how untrue to life a story may be, the artist can dismiss this from his mind, and treat the characters as realities, not as puppets" (Sullivan, Art, 217). Like the Pre-Raphaelite illustrators, Edmund Sullivan reacted against an art in which "the heroines are lacking in flesh and blood, and are often too concerned about being 'ladylike' to be ladies" (Sullivan, Art, 217). His design for "The Lady of Shalott" exemplifies his own conception of illustration in which verisimilitude plays an essential role, even in fantasy. He shared the Pre-Raphaelite intensity of vision that raises illustration from the prosaic to the poetic (Sullivan, Art, 40).


Neuringer, Miriam. Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and its Contexts, Ed. George P. Landow. Brown University: 1985. p. 164.

Sullivan, Edmund J. The Art of Illustration . London: Chapman and Hall, 1921.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. A Dream of Fair Women and Other Poems. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

Thorpe, James. Edmund J. Sullivan. New York: Pelligrini and Cudahay, 1948.

Visual Arts Lady of Shalott

Last modified 16 December 2006