La Morte d'Arthur

James Archer, 1823 - 1904

La Morte d'Arthur

James Archer 1823 - 1904


The scene depicts the death of the legendary King Arthur. Laid out across the foreground is the wounded body of the king encircled by four grieving women within a glade; he wears a suit of chainmail under a tunic, bearing the emblem of a dragon on the chest, with a blanket of fur covering his legs. His head rests on the lap of his Queen, seated on a cushion on the ground to the left; she strokes his brow and gazes down into his face. Seated at his side is the second female figure, wearing a crown, with an open book upon her lap and offering the King the contents of a tiny bowl held to his chin. Kneeling at his feet is the third figure, her head bowed and weeping into her hands. The fourth figure stands behind the seated group in the centre of the composition, resting her head against the trunk of a tree, a melancholy expression on her face. Slightly apart from and to the upper right of the group, and seen in profile to the left, is the almost transparent and weightless figure of a winged female, holding a golden grail. Beyond the glade is a shoreline. To the left, is an encounter on the beach between a young woman in rich clothing and an elderly male figure in a monk's habit, who's face is hidden by his hood with only a long, white beard showing - these figures are understood to be Nimue and Merlin. To the right, approaching the coast on choppy seas, is a boat with its sails drawn up - the boat carries the cure for Arthur's injuries from the Isle of Avalon. On the left horizon is a range of mountains capped with dark clouds.

Display Label

Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.

Object Name

La Morte d'Arthur

Creators Name

James Archer

Date Created



unframed: 43.2cm x 50.9cm
framed: 75.8cm x 83.5cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


Gift in 1952


© Manchester Art Gallery

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