|Artist||John Everett Millais|
|Medium||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||76.2 cm× 111.8 cm(30.0 in× 44.0 in)|
|Location||Tate Britain, London|
Ophelia is an 1851–52 painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais in the collection of Tate Britain, London. It depicts Ophelia, a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet , singing before she drowns in a river.
The work encountered a mixed response when first exhibited at the Royal Academy, but has since come to be admired as one of the most important works of the mid-nineteenth century for its beauty, its accurate depiction of a natural landscape, and its influence on artists from John William Waterhouse and Salvador Dalí to Peter Blake, Ed Ruscha and Friedrich Heyser.
The painting depicts Ophelia singing while floating in a river just before she drowns. The scene is described in Act IV, Scene VII of Hamlet in a speech by Queen Gertrude.
The episode depicted is not usually seen onstage, as in Shakespeare's text it exists only in Gertrude's description. Out of her mind with grief, Ophelia has been making garlands of wildflowers. She climbs into a willow tree overhanging a brook to dangle some from its branches, and a bough breaks beneath her. She lies in the water singing songs, as if unaware of her danger ("incapable of her own distress"). Her clothes, trapping air, have allowed her to temporarily stay afloat ("Her clothes spread wide, / And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up."). But eventually, "her garments, heavy with their drink, / Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay" down "to muddy death".
Ophelia's death has been praised as one of the most poetically written death scenes in literature.
Ophelia's pose—her open arms and upwards gaze—also resembles traditional portrayals of saints or martyrs, but has also been interpreted as erotic.
The painting is known for its depiction of the detailed flora of the river and the riverbank, stressing the patterns of growth and decay in a natural ecosystem. Despite its nominal Danish setting, the landscape has come to be seen as quintessentially English. Ophelia was painted along the banks of the Hogsmill River in Surrey, near Tolworth. Barbara Webb, a resident of nearby Old Malden, devoted much time to finding the exact placement of the picture, and according to her research, the scene is located at Six Acre Meadow, alongside Church Road, Old Malden.Millais Road is now nearby. Millais's close colleague William Holman Hunt was at the time working on his The Hireling Shepherd nearby.
The flowers shown floating on the river were chosen to correspond with Shakespeare's description of Ophelia's garland. They also reflect the Victorian interest in the "language of flowers", according to which each flower carries a symbolic meaning. The prominent red poppy—not mentioned by Shakespeare's description of the scene—represents sleep and death.
At an early stage in the painting's creation, Millais painted a water vole—which an assistant had fished out of the Hogsmill—paddling next to Ophelia. In December 1851, he showed the unfinished painting to Holman Hunt's relatives. He recorded in his diary, "Hunt's uncle and aunt came, both of whom understood most gratifyingly every object except my water rat. The male relation, when invited to guess at it, eagerly pronounced it to be a hare. Perceiving by our smiles that he had made a mistake, a rabbit was then hazarded. After which I have a faint recollection of a dog or a cat being mentioned." Millais painted the water vole out of the final picture, although a rough sketch of it still exists in an upper corner of the canvas hidden by its frame.
In keeping with the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), of which he was a member, Millais used bright colours, gave high attention to detail and faithful truth to nature. This rendition of Ophelia is the epitome of the PRB style; first, because of the subject matter, depicting a woman who has lived a life awaiting happiness, only to find her destiny on the verge of death: the vulnerable woman is a popular subject among Pre-Raphaelite artists. Also, Millais utilizes bright, intense colours in the landscape to make the pale Ophelia contrast with the nature behind her. All this is evident in the vivid attention to detail in the brush and trees around Ophelia, the contouring of her face, and the intricate work Millais did on her dress.
Millais produced Ophelia in two separate stages: He first painted the landscape, and secondly the figure of Ophelia. Having found a suitable setting for the picture, Millais remained on the banks of the Hogsmill River in Ewell—within a literal stone's throw of where fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt painted The Light of the World —for up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, over a five-month period in 1851.
This allowed him to accurately depict the natural scene before him. Millais encountered various difficulties during the painting process. He wrote in a letter to a friend, "The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh. I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay ... and am also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water. Certainly the painting of a picture under such circumstances would be greater punishment to a murderer than hanging." By November 1851, the weather had turned windy and snowy. Millais oversaw the building of a hut "made of four hurdles, like a sentry-box, covered outside with straw". According to Millais, sitting inside the hut made him feel like Robinson Crusoe. William Holman Hunt was so impressed by the hut that he had an identical one built for himself.
Ophelia was modelled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddall, then 19 years old. Millais had Siddall lie fully clothed in a full bathtub in his studio at 7 Gower Street in London.As it was now winter, he placed oil lamps under the tub to warm the water, but was so intent on his work that he allowed them to go out. As a result, Siddall caught a severe cold, and her father later sent Millais a letter demanding £50 for medical expenses. According to Millais's son, he eventually accepted a lower sum.
When Ophelia was first publicly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1852, it was not universally acclaimed. A critic in The Times wrote that "there must be something strangely perverse in an imagination which souses Ophelia in a weedy ditch, and robs the drowning struggle of that lovelorn maiden of all pathos and beauty",while a further review in the same newspaper said that "Mr. Millais's Ophelia in her pool ... makes us think of a dairymaid in a frolic". Even the great art critic John Ruskin, an avid supporter of Millais, while finding the technique of the painting "exquisite", expressed doubts about the decision to set it in a Surrey landscape and asked, "Why the mischief should you not paint pure nature, and not that rascally wirefenced garden-rolled-nursery-maid's paradise?"
In the 20th century, Salvador Dalí wrote glowingly in an article published in a 1936 edition of the French Surrealist journal Minotaure about the artistic movement that inspired the painting. "How could Salvador Dalí fail to be dazzled by the flagrant surrealism of English Pre-Raphaelitism. The Pre-Raphaelite painters bring us radiant women who are, at the same time, the most desirable and most frightening that exist."He later went on to re-interpret Millais's painting in a 1973 work entitled Ophelia's Death.
In 1906, Japanese novelist Natsume Sōseki called the painting "a thing of considerable beauty" in Kusamakura (novel); since then, the painting has been highly popular in Japan. It was exhibited in Tokyo in 1998 and travelled there again in 2008.
|on YouTube, Smarthistory (5:26)|
The painting has been widely referred to and pastiched in art, film, and photography, notably in Laurence Olivier's 1948 film Hamlet , where it formed the basis for the portrayal of Ophelia's death. A scene in Wes Craven's 1972 film The Last House on the Left was modelled on the painting,while the video for Nick Cave's song "Where the Wild Roses Grow" depicts Kylie Minogue mimicking the pose of the image. The artwork is also referenced in Fire With Fire , a 1986 film in which a schoolgirl is replicating the central image as the protagonists meet. The imagery of the painting is evoked in the prologue of Lars von Trier's 2011 film Melancholia , where Kirsten Dunst's character Justine floats in a slow-moving stream.
Ophelia was purchased from Millais on 10 December 1851 by the art dealer Henry Farrer for 300 guineas, approximately equal to £40,000 in 2020.Farrer sold the painting to B. G. Windus, an avid collector of Pre-Raphaelite art, who sold it on in 1862 for 748 guineas. The painting is held at Tate Britain, London, and is valued by experts as worth at least £30 million.
Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, was an English painter and illustrator who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was a child prodigy who, aged eleven, became the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy Schools. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his family home in London, at 83 Gower Street. Millais became the most famous exponent of the style, his painting Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50) generating considerable controversy, and he produced a picture that could serve as the embodiment of the historical and naturalist focus of the group, Ophelia, in 1851–52.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner who formed a seven-member "Brotherhood" modelled in part on the Nazarene movement. The Brotherhood was only ever a loose association and their principles were shared by other artists of the time, including Ford Madox Brown, Arthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman. Later followers of the principles of the Brotherhood included Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John William Waterhouse.
William Holman Hunt was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid colour, and elaborate symbolism. These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs. For Hunt it was the duty of the artist to reveal the correspondence between sign and fact. Of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximise the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.
Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, generally known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was an English poet, illustrator, painter, translator and member of the Rossetti family. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Rossetti inspired the next generation of artists and writers, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in particular. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.
John William Waterhouse was an English painter known for working first in the Academic style and for then embracing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's style and subject matter. His artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.
Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, better known as Elizabeth Siddal, was an English artist, poet, and artists' model. Significant collections of her artworks can be found at Wightwick Manor and the Ashmolean. Siddal was painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and especially by her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Arthur Hughes was an English painter and illustrator associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
The Hireling Shepherd (1851) is a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. It represents a shepherd neglecting his flock in favour of an attractive country girl to whom he shows a death's-head hawkmoth. The meaning of the image has been much debated.
The Light of the World (1851–1854) is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me". According to Hunt: "I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be divine command, and not simply a good subject." The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing "the obstinately shut mind". The painting was considered by many to be the most important and culturally influential rendering of Christ of its time.
The Shadow of Death is a religious painting by William Holman Hunt, on which he worked from 1870 to 1873, during his second trip to the Holy Land. It depicts Jesus as a young man prior to his ministry, working as a carpenter. He is shown stretching his arms after sawing wood. The shadow of his outstretched arms falls on a wooden spar on which carpentry tools hang, creating a "shadow of death" prefiguring the crucifixion. His mother Mary is depicted from behind, gazing up at the shadow, having been looking into a box in which she has kept the gifts given by the Magi.
Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50) is a painting by John Everett Millais depicting the Holy Family in Saint Joseph's carpentry workshop. The painting was extremely controversial when first exhibited, prompting many negative reviews, most notably one written by Charles Dickens. It catapulted the previously obscure Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to notoriety and was a major contributor to the debate about Realism in the arts. It is now in Tate Britain in London.
Isabella (1848-1849) is a painting by John Everett Millais, which was his first exhibited work in the Pre-Raphaelite style, completed shortly after the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849, and is now in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge. (1851–52) is the full, exhibited title, of a painting by John Everett Millais, and was produced at the height of his Pre-Raphaelite period. It was accompanied, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1852, with a long quote reading: "When the clock of the Palais de Justice shall sound upon the great bell, at daybreak, then each good Catholic must bind a strip of white linen round his arm, and place a fair white cross in his cap.—The order of the Duke of Guise." This long title is usually abbreviated to A Huguenot or A Huguenot, on St Bartholomew's Day.
Mariana is an 1851 oil-on-panel painting by John Everett Millais. The image depicts the solitary Mariana from William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, as retold in Tennyson's 1830 poem "Mariana". The painting is regarded as an example of Millais's "precision, attention to detail, and stellar ability as a colorist". It has been held by Tate Britain since 1999.
A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids is a painting by William Holman Hunt that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850 and is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was a companion to John Everett Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents. Both artists sought to depict similar episodes from very early Christian history, portraying families helping an injured individual. Both also stressed the primitivism of the scene.
Ferdinand Lured by Ariel is an 1850 painting by John Everett Millais which depicts an episode from Act I, Scene II of Shakespeare's c. 1611 play The Tempest. It illustrates Ferdinand's lines "Where should this music be? i' the air or the earth?". He is listening to Ariel singing the lyric "Full fathom five thy father lies". Ariel is tipping Ferdinand's hat from his head, while Ferdinand holds on to its string and strains to hear the song. Ferdinand looks straight at Ariel, but the latter is invisible to him.
Desperate Romantics is a six-part television drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first broadcast on BBC Two between 21 July and 25 August 2009.
Dante's Inferno: The Private Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter (1967) is a feature-length 35 mm film directed by Ken Russell and first screened on the BBC on 22 December 1967 as part of Omnibus. It quickly became a staple in cinemas in retrospectives of Russell's work. Using nonlinear narrative technique, it tells of the relationship between the 19th-century artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his model, Elizabeth Siddal.
Thoughts of the Past is an oil painting on canvas by English Pre-Raphaelite artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, first exhibited in 1859 and currently housed at Tate Britain.
Our English Coasts, also known as Strayed Sheep, is an oil-on-canvas painting by William Holman Hunt, completed in 1852. It has been held by the Tate Gallery since 1946, acquired through The Art Fund.