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Friday, 13 February 2015

Painting of the Month (52) February 2015:Millais

Ophelia. Sir John Everett Millais, 1852
Four years before this painting was made the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in London in 1848. Millais was one of the three founder-members whose main idea was to return to the style of art that they thought should dominate. They objected to the classical style that Raphael and others has promoted, favouring instead great attention to detail, nature and bright colours. In particular they objected to the founder of the English Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds; apparently they referred to him as "Sir Sloshua". On the whole I don't go too much on their work but I think this particular painting is a bit special.
Ophelia was the character in Shakespeare's Hamlet who is depicted drowning in a Danish river. Her death does not occur on stage but is eloquently described by Queen Gertrude, Hamlets's mother. She fell from a branch into the water and floated without trying to rescue herself because her voluminous dress filled with air and kept her buoyant. However, the dress eventually became saturated and she drowned. Another character suggests it was suicide. (Prince Hamlet had rejected her because he was pre-occupied with his 'To be or not to be' soliloquy in which he contemplates the attractions of suicide - it's a laugh a minute is Hamlet.)
There is a very interesting story about Elizabeth Siddal, left, who was a favourite model for many of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets. Millais had her posed in a bath of cold water for many hours during the winter while he meticulously painted. (He had previously spent months outdoors painting the scenery ). Small lamps were lit under the bath-tub but they were inadequate to keep the water warm. 'Lizzie' became ill, possibly with pneumonia so her father threatened legal action action against Millais, who ended-up paying all of her hospital bills. Others have speculated that it was her addiction to laudanum that had made her ill. Life imitating art?
Sir John Everett Millais was born in Southampton, England in 1829 and died in Kensington , London in 1896.
Sir John Everett Millais


Dixie@dcrelief said...

I have no idea why, but Millais' characters' faces always freak me out. The expressions he puts on them. "Ophelia" is beautiful regarding the color and masterful execution of the every item. I love his playful light, but that face gets me.

One of my favorites, "Ransom" has the same affect on me. The colors of that one are vibrant, though he has great fabric detail in "Ophelia"...but the children's faces, and those of the adults around them.

I can't remember who did, "Jesus in the Carpenter's Shop"... might have been Mallais too. Certainly in that same brotherhood of painters. They all painted these strange faces.

Best to stop myself, as I'm rambling. But I do like this painting. The brush work is outstanding. I don't even know have the words to describe how wonderful it is. Thank you, Bazza.

bazza said...

Hi Dixie. This post was originally going to be published in January but I got sidetracked! Elizabeth Siddal was a popular model for many of the PRB members - an early groupie maybe?
And it was Millais who painted Christ in the House of His Parents (AKA ‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) but other artists have painted the same scene.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

I pulled out an old art appreciation book today. I knew that 'carpenter's shop' might not have the correct title(!)
Was it Elizabeth that got left in the cold water too long and got pneumonia? I guess I need break down and have a look online. This has me giggling for some reason.
Thanks, sir :)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I guess that Elizabeth was a supermodel in her days. She certainly was a very beautiful woman.

bazza said...

Dixie: Often, the same painting is known equally by two or more different titles (Eg The Mona Lisa AKA La Giaconda) Also the same title can be used more that once even by the same artist. There ain't no rules !
It was indeed Elizabeth Siddal who got pneumonia and It's rarely wrong to giggle!

bazza said...

Arleen: There are indeed many really top class paintings of her and you are quite right she was a supermodel of the Victorian era.

John said...

Hi Bazza!
I have always loved this painting! The expression on her face of peace has always made me wonder?

loverofwords said...

I did not know anything about this artist although I have seen his paintings. Models have not always had a good life and many times in the past have been treated rather badly. Here is a book for you to write, Bazza, "The Unknown Life of Painter's Models--Scorned, Discarded, and Worse."

bazza said...

John: Yes, I find the expression on her face to be very serene. I think Millais has subscribed to the suicide theory - there is no distress to be seen!

bazza said...

Hatasha: Wow! If I could write a book that matched up to that fabulous title I would be very happy.It seems that models often ended up having affairs with the artists so there were some perks!