Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall

Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall

A fascinating tale from Falmouth Cornwall involving a guano businessman, fairy tales, Arthurian knights, Tennyson and a gallery and a painting. Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall

‘The Lady of Shalott’ is a poem (see extract below) written by Alfred Lord Tennyson that tells the tale of a young woman,  Elaine of Astolat,  imprisoned in a tower alongside a river that runs to Camelot.

From Camelot trots Sir Lancelot and the young girl, preoccupied with her weaving, becomes so entranced by  vision of the knight that she turns to the window which she has been forbidden to view from and immediately the curse confining her to the tower, is fulfilled. That roughly is the story.

Arthurian legends, mediaeval myths and stories, provided a rich tapestry for The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.

Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall
The Lady of Shalott William Holman Hunt c1888 -1905

This work in Falmouth Art Gallery is a work by John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917), a successor to the PRB,

Falmouth Art Gallery 'The Extraordinary Mr de Pass
John William waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott. Sketch

and was used as a sketch for his final piece which is in the Leeds Art Gallery.

Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall
The Lady Of Shalott Looking at Sir Lancelot. Waterhouse,  1894 Leeds Art Gallery

John William Waterhouse also painted this version of the same theme.

The Lady of Shalott. John William Waterhouse 1888 Tate Britain

So, what of the Falmouth Art Gallery picture’s provenance?

An interesting weave on this picture is that it was presented to Falmouth Art Gallery in 1923 by the former businessman, turned art connoisseur Alfred Aaron de Pass (1861- 1952).

Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall
Alfred A de Pass. Tate Gallery

He was born in Cape Town to Sephardic Jewish merchants who owned the largest fleet in Cape Town and made their fortune from guano.

In 1867, Alfred A de Pass was taken to England. Part of his education was at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London. From here he moved to the Colony of Natal in 1879–84, where he introduced a valuable strain of sugar that was disease-resistant. (source – Wikipedia )

Returning to the UK he lived in what he considered his real home and where he’d spent his honeymoon, Falmouth Cornwall. Here he bought land and built his house, Cliffe House.

It was to Falmouth Art Gallery that he donated much of his prized art collection in addition to other institutions including The National Portrait Gallery and British Museum.  Falmouth Art Gallery ‘The Extraordinary Mr de Pass’ 

Lancelot Guano Falmouth Cornwall


And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot. (Lancelot)

Out flew the web and floated wide—
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

“Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott”.