Elaine fell in love with Sir Lancelot, one of King Arthur’s knights. He abandoned her in favour of Queen Guinevere. Elaine died of unrequited love and here her faithful servant is rowing her to King Arthur’s palace at Camelot. She is holding a lily, representing purity, and a letter expressing her undying love for Lancelot.
The artist’s source was Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King’ of 1859 which popularised the Arthurian romances in Victorian England. It was unusual for a woman artist to paint grand history pictures such as this one as early as 1870. The reviewers at the time were predictably patronising, with one commenting: 'a very able work on a scale seldom attempted by a female artist, yet revealing no trace of weakness or technical immaturity'. It is noteworthy that Liverpool City Council was broad minded enough to select this major work by a female artist for purchase at the first Liverpool Autumn Exhibition.