Maids of Elfen–Mere

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

1854 (circa)

Physical Description

Medium: pen and ink
Dimensions: 5 x 3 1/4 in.

Production Description

Production Date: 1854 (circa)


Current Location: Yale Center for British Art
Archival History: Dr. Robert Spence Watson

Sources of the Work

Note: DGR's illustration was made for Allingham's ballad “The Maids of Elfin-Mere”, which was published in The Music Master, A Love Story, and Two Series of Day and Night Songs (1855) volume.

Scholarly Commentary


This pen and ink drawing for Allingham's poem distinguishes itself from its companion works by a crucial repositioning of the figures. In DGR's other imagining of Maids of Elfen-Mere, the youth is “seated at a table and listening in rapt mood to the chaunt of four mystic supernatural women in shadowy forms before him.” By contrast, here the youth is removed to a much more precarious position in the drawing, barely maintaining his place in the sloping perspective below the three maids. That new arrangement enforces the key thematic issue: the separation of the world of the elf maidens from the world of the young man. In DGR's original drawing, the separation is primarily represented in the linear and chiaroscuro contrasts between the maidens and the youth, although the more extreme linear forms developed in the engraving are already implicit in the drawing.


Allan R. Life has an acute discussion of the play of the naturalistic and unnaturalistic features of DGR's picture (77-86). He notes in passing (77-78) the possible influence of “Dürer and the Early Netherlandish painters” as well as the “outline school” of Flaxman and David Scott. He might as well have cited Blake's methods as an illustrator.


As an illustration for William Allingham's ballad The Maids of Elfen-Mere , the picture is involved with the stories of the nixies, or water sprites, out of Northern mythology. These women are regularly associated with the Parcae, or Fates—an association that DGR specifically incorporates into his picture's intense and “enigmatic relationship between the Maidens and their suitor” (Life 87). The ballad and its illustration clearly recall the tradition epitomized for DGR in Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci .


  • Angeli, DGR con 107 illustrazioni .
  • Doughty and Wahl, Letters, 1.208, 212, 222, 226, 230, 236, 237, 238, 239, 243-248, 256; 2.850.
  • Fredeman, Correspondence, 54.21n1, 54.40n1, 54.55n11, 54.57, 54.63, 54.67, 55.4, 55.8, 55.15, 55.16, 55.24, 55.32, 55.33, 56.9n4.
  • Grieve, Art of DGR: Watercolors and Drawings, 62-64.
  • Life, “Going Halfway.”
  • Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial , 70-71.
  • Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 112-13.
  • Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné , vol. 1, 32 (no. 67A).
Maids of Elfen–Mere
Copyright: ©Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
File Name: s67a.rap.xml