Ophelia is a painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851
and 1852. Currently held in the Tate Britain in London, it depicts Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare‘s play Hamlet
Millais was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (also known as the Pre-Raphaelites) a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 to form a seven-member “brotherhood”. The group’s intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo.
They believed that the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic
teaching of art.The Brotherhood’s early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:
- to have genuine ideas to express
- to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them
- to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art,
- most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues
These principles are deliberately non-dogmatic, since the Brotherhood wished to emphasise the personal responsibility of individual artists to
determine their own ideas and methods of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, they thought that freedom and responsibility were inseparable. Nevertheless,
they were particularly fascinated by medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in later eras.The Pre-raphaelites
exploited peculiar techniques: the white ground, the wet-white and the use of very brilliant colours.
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. A
lot of flowers can be recognised and most of them have a symbolic meaning. There are violets, poppies, pansies, willows. Take for instance, pansies; they
signify love in vain or thought, poppies signify sleep or death, violets, death in youth and daisies, innocence.
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 — 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. Ophelia was
modelled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddal, then 19 years old. She posed in a bathtub full of water.
When Ophelia was first publicly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1852, it was not universally acclaimed. Only in more recent years it had been rediscovered and
praised by the critics. References to this painting can be found in several video and films, inspiring a lot of
photographers as well.