This watercolour by Australian artist Christian Waller was gifted to the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 1933 by the Women’s Association. It depicts a woman in medieval dress whom the title identifies as Morgan Le Fay. Morgan Le Fay is a sorceress/healer in Arthurian legend. Starting with Chrétien de Troyes in the late twelfth century, she is often named as Arthur’s half-sister (by his mother Igerne). She plays a key adversarial role in much Arthurian literature; she is often depicted trying to expose the adulterous liaisons of Lancelot and Guinevere, and attempting to bring about Arthur’s downfall. She does this by using her magic powers to give Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, to her lover Accolon (while leaving Arthur unknowingly with a counterfeit), and by throwing Excalibur into the lake. At the end of Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century text Le Morte d’Arthur, however, she resumes her healing role by taking Arthur to Avalon and tending to the wounded king. For a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur, see: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/malory/thomas/m25m/. In the background of Waller’s painting are numerous medieval references: a lance, a heraldic shield, a helmet, a picture of a knight riding a horse, and a set of highly symbolic keys given Morgan Le Fay’s power in Arthurian legend.
About Christian Waller:
Christian Waller was born Christian Marjory Emily Carlyle Yandell in 1894 in Castlemaine, Victoria. In 1910 she moved to Melbourne with her family. There she attended the National Gallery Schools and won acclaim from a young age, receiving a number of student prizes, exhibiting her work with the Victorian Artists Society and featuring in illustrated publications such as Franklin Petersons Melba’s Gift Book of Australian Art and Literature in 1915. In 1915 she married fellow artist Mervyn Napier Waller. He lost his right arm the following year serving on the Western Front, and Christian supported him upon his return to Australia by working as a commercial artist. During the 1920s she became a book illustrator, and her work from this period has been described as reflecting “Classical, Medieval, Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau influences” (See Thomas, David, 'Waller, Christian Marjory Emily Carlyle (1894–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/waller-christian-marjory-emily-carlyle-11944/text21407, accessed 4 February 2012). From 1928 Waller started designing stained glass windows. This was an artistic medium in which she was prolific, and for which she became well known, during the 1930s and 40s.