|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