Noel Paton was a Scottish painter born in Dumfermline, who began his career as a textile designer before moving to London to study painting at the Royal Academy schools in 1843. It was here that he met John Everett Millais, and whilst his return to Scotland precluded him from joining the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the group of friends proved to have an enduring influence on his work. Paton was, however, most famous for his paintings of fairy subjects, which enjoyed great commercial success. Queen Victoria herself was among his patrons and admirers. She appointed him her Painter and Limner for Scotland in 1866 and knighted him the following year.
Here Paton demonstrates his alliance with the Pre-Raphaelites by depicting the eponymous heroine of Tennyson’s famed 1832 poem, famously later portrayed by John William Waterhouse in 1888 (Tate, London). Paton paints the Lady of Shalott immured in her tower, leaning forward as she gazes intently out. The ambiguity of the scene leaves it unclear as to whether she is looking into her glass, to which she was doomed to see the world reflected, or if this is the fatal moment in which she finally reaches out of the window, sealing her fate.