Who painted The Blue Ophelia and why

John Everett Millais: Ophelia Ophelia Millais' as a drowning beauty


Shakespeare's drama "Hamlet" is the subject of this famous history painting from Tate Britain in London. In contrast to the other depictions of Ophelia in the Victorian era, Millais ‘" Ophelia "is neither a tableaux vivant even more dramatic. Still, Millais ‘choice to show Ophelia while drowning is a first in 19th century British painting. All tension comes from Ophelia floating backwards in the water and the precisely described nature. The glowing flowers, which are just slipping away from the doomed or deceased Ophelia, stand out against the grass and the green water.

John Everett Millais began working on this painting in July 1851. Between July and November he stayed with William Holman Hunt in Ewell near Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. Both painted the landscapes there, i.e. the backgrounds of their paintings that they wanted to submit to the academy exhibition the following year. Millais chose a position on the Hogsmill River near Malden. He suffered terribly from the sun while painting outdoors.

"I sit tailor-fashion under an umbrella throwing a shadow scarcely larger than a halfpenny for eleven hours, with a child's mug within reach to satisfy my thirst from the running stream beside me ... am also in danger of beeing blown by the wind into the water, and becoming intimate with the feelings of Ophelia when that lady sank to muddly death. "(John Everett Millais)

With “Ophelia”, John Everett Millais succeeded in transferring his style from the orientation towards the Middle Ages of his earlier Pre-Raphaelite pictures to a more poetic conception of nature and feminine beauty. The overall structure of the composition is kept very simple, the details are complex. Millais shows all the flowers that Queen Gertrud lists when she reports the death of Ophelia in “Hamlet”. The realistically painted flowers not only testify to the painter's interest in botany and his attention to detail, but also serve to alleviate the tragedy of the incident.

Elizabeth Siddal was the model for Ophelia, although it can be doubted that she fared better than the painter. From December 1851, the painting was completed in London, which is why Miss Siddal had to lie in a water bed. After all, her damp stage was warmed from below with oil lamps! When Elizabeth Siddal caught a cold, Millais had to hear a lot from her father and was even threatened with a £ 50 fine. After the work was completed, however, everyone had to admit that it was the best portrait of Miss Siddal ever painted of her. In addition, it was hymnically celebrated by contemporary critics and was shown at many exhibitions. When John Everett Millais presented “Ophelia” at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1855, he was able to celebrate his international breakthrough as a recognized painter with this picture.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851/52, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 111.8 cm, Tate. Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894.

Millais: Ophelia: picture

  • John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851/52, oil / canvas, 76.2 x 111.8 cm (Tate Britain, London)
Published by Alexandra Matznervon August 13, 2017
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