A self-taught artist from West Chester, Pennsylvania,who started making art at the age of thirty-seven, Horace Pippin was "discovered" by the art world in 1937. Over the next nine years he established a flourishing career, becoming one of the most widely recognized African-American artists in the country and one of a small group of self-taught artists (also called folk or outsider artists) who enjoyed patronage from the artistic mainstream. Having sustained a shoulder injury in World War I, Pippin worked slowly and laboriously. Despite this fact, he produced about one hundred and forty works on canvas and wood panel and numerous drawings between 1925 and 1946. Pippin's subject matter includes themes from history (especially his own experiences fighting in the 369th Infantry Regiment), portraits, and political and religious allegories. He also painted tender and acutely observed scenes of the everyday lives of black and white Americans in and around West Chester.
"Lady of the Lake" is distinctive in Pippin's work, not only for its landscape setting, but also for its literary subject matter, taken from the Arthurian legends. In Pippin's own inimitable interpretation, the Lady of the Lake is here personified as a nude sunbather at the edge of the water, stretched out on a blanket decorated with what seems to be a Native American design. The figure sits with her face held up to the sun, next to a cabin that seems too small to accommodate her height—an exaggeration of scale and perspective that marks the work of many self-taught artists. On the near shore of the lake rests a canoe. Meadow and forest fill the opposite shore, and mountains rise in the distance. The symmetry is broken only by the trellis with a single, prominent red rose at the lower right of the composition. The artist's use of bright, intense reds and greens is typical of his palette during his period.
This painting was done at the end of Pippin's career, when his work had attracted the attention and support of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, whose pioneering collection of European and American modern art now forms the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania.