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The Tragic Story of Lady Charlotte: A Pre-Raphaelite Painting That Captivated Me

In the early 1990s, I was looking at oil paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. While applauding, I felt my ignorance of Western art, so I went to the library and read the painting history albums one after another. Pre-Raphaelite art fascinated me for a while. In the album of the Pre-Raphaelites, the girl on the ship that has been haunting my heart for many years is finally unveiled: it is a painting by John Waterhouse in 1888, entitled “Charlotte Girl” .

“Lady Charlotte” originated from a poem by Tennyson, based on the legend of King Arthur in the Middle Ages. In the upper reaches of Camelot, the seat of King Arthur’s court, there lived a woman in the castle of Charlotte, a small island in the river. No one knew her origin, but she could only be seen from the window and heard her singing. She was known as “Lady Charlotte”. Miss Charlotte is cursed by the fairy, so she cannot directly look at the real world outside the window, but can only look at the world behind her through the scene reflected in the mirror, and weave the scene into a pattern.

One day, Lancelot, the most handsome knight under King Arthur, was riding by. Miss Charlotte saw him in the mirror and fell in love with him immediately. She stopped spinning, went to the window and looked down. The mirror broke suddenly, the curse was fulfilled immediately, and Miss Charlotte faced the fate of imminent death. After crying bitterly, she left the castle, found a small boat by the river, and put the tapestry that she had woven for many years beside the boat. She carved her name on the bow, untied the ship’s cable, let the boat go straight down, and drifted to King Arthur’s court, hoping to see her beloved knight before she died. But she failed to do so and died on the way.

When the boat arrived at Camelot, the knights and ladies gathered around, and Lancelot was among the crowd. He saw the girl Charlotte’s face and marveled at its elegance and beauty, but no one, including Lancelot, knew the girl’s tragic story.

What is the story of Miss Charlotte’s lamentable sorrow? Tennyson himself explained: “A sudden love for a person in the great outer world, long cut off from herself, led her out of the realm of shadows and into reality.” Tennyson’s biographer Peter Terry Pi further extended: “Girl Charlotte is like an artist, anonymous and isolated, recording other people’s stories year after year. When she brought her masterpiece to the real world, she found that this The world is so boring, even worse than the old castle that imprisoned her.” In other words, it is impossible for an artist to be isolated from reality, or to step directly into reality, because the price is extremely heavy. Miss Charlotte paid the price of death, but failed to get love in return. What’s even more sad is that her identity has not been recognized. She remained mysterious and nameless until her death.

Because of a painting by Waterhouse, the aestheticism of the Pre-Raphaelites left a deep impression in my heart, and even the paintings of the entire British Victorian era have become a friendly term for me. From these paintings, I see my childish dreams as always.