Tennyson's retelling of Malory's tales from La Morte d'Arthur, published in 1842 had re-awakened interest in the romances and inspired many artists. Archer painted several depictions of incidents from the series of tales of King Arthur's court, exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1860s at the height of the popularity for the stories. The first and most famous of the series, entitled La Morte d'Arthur of 1861 (Manchester City Art Gallery), depicts the last moments of the King attended by his treacherous sister Morgan le Fay, Queen Guinevere and the Lady of the Lake. In the following year Archer exhibited King Arthur Obtains the Mystic Sword Excalibur and in 1868 painted another composition The Sancgreall, King Arthur Healed of his Grievous Wound (Christie's, 23 November 2005, lot 27). The present picture, which does not appear to have been exhibited, depicts Merlin leading the knight Lancelot back to Camelot following his unsuccessful quest to attain the Grail.
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