Friday, July 1, 2011

Ophelia by Millais

Your votes are tallied for the favorite painting of Ophelia, and the winner is the version by John Everett Millais. Out of 682 votes cast, it garnered 284, more than three times as many votes as the next contender, by Jules Joseph Lefebvre.


The painting by Millais is in oil, 44 x 30 inches, and it was painted in 1851-1852. The original is at the Tate Gallery in London. Above is a study of the model, 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddal.

The painting portrays Ophelia’s death scene, as described by Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VI:

Her clothes spread wide; and, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; as one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death


Wikipedia describes the process of making the painting:
“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 modeled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddal, then 19 years old. Millais had Siddal 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, Siddal caught a severe cold, and her father later sent Millais a letter demanding £50 for medical expenses. According to Millais' son, he eventually accepted a lower sum.
 Some have suggested that a detail of verdure on the far shore looks a lot like a death’s head or skull. Millais used other symbols of death in the painting, such as the red poppy, and his friend Holman Hunt used overt skull motifs in his work.

Wikipedia description of the painting by Millais
Original Poll on GurneyJourney
Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques
The Pre-Raphaelites: Colour Library (Phaidon Colour Library)

6 comments:

Olly Lawson said...

Fantastic! As a Ewell resident it's surely strange to see my town mentioned here. I've tried painting this river many times, but sadly dry mud and shopping trolleys just don't create the same result.

Adrian said...

It didn't surprise me that Mellais won. It's one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Thank you for showing me the other interpretations of Ophelia.

Taking Mellais out, my favourite would probably be one of the Waterhouse's, but he was obviously influenced by Mellais and the other PR boys.

You could mistake Shallot for one of Mellais...

etc, etc said...

As a result, Siddal caught a severe cold, and her father later sent Millais a letter demanding £50 for medical expenses.

Also my vote for the most charming anecdote in art history.

My Pen Name said...

Sidal was a favorite of many of the preRaphelites, ..a novel/drama all in herself:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Siddal

Both holeman hunt's biography and speeds oil painting cover the pre-raph technique- I have tried it but never with success. (the glazing over wet white thing)

Rich said...

What a painstaking realism by Millais!

Clearly photography had not been invented yet.

Erik Bongers said...

Millias as winner was to be expected.
Love the drawing as much as the painting.
The pre-raphaelites created many excellent drawings of their two favorite models.