Those Pre-Raphaelites: oh, how they loved Alfred Tennyson, particularly when he was in Arthurian mode (which, happily, was quite often). Waterhouse’s magnificent painting, The Lady of Shalott (1888), illustrates lines from Part IV of The Lady of Shalott, who is doomed to die after the mirror she uses to look on the world (living under an undisclosed curse, she is not allowed to look upon reality) cracks from side to side: ‘She loosed the chain, and down she lay;/the broad stream bore her far away.’ According to Waterhouse’s biographer, Anthony Hobson, the artist covered every blank page of his own edition of Tennyson’s poems with pencil.
This is a livre de peintre, a precursor to the later artist’s book (see Ed Ruscha, later in this series) — an illustrated book created directly by an artist, rather than by a technician from an artist’s design. In other words, this is a deluxe, limited edition book, whose (unbound) pages were intended for display.
Bonnard was commissioned by the dealer Ambroise Vollard, who was painstaking in the realisation of the project (the paper came from Amsterdam; the text, in a font designed by Garamond in 1540, was set and printed by hand), and the artist responded with equal intensity, his lithographs now comprising what is generally considered to be the first great livre de peintre. The book was highly controversial in its time, Verlaine’s poems having already been banned for their description of lesbian sex.