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  1. 1. Images of Ophelia
  2. 2. Joseph Severn, 1831 <ul><li>Severn's picture is the silliest realization of a scene from Shakespeare I have seen. Ophelia has bound together sticks and twigs to spell out &quot;Hamlet&quot; and then decorated the letters with a variety of flowers. In her hand she clutches one of the Hamlet's letters, but her expression conveys none of the emotion or the look of madness we see in other paintings on the same subject. Her obvious fixation on Hamlet does, however, unequivocally state that the cause of Ophelia's madness is Hamlet's cruelty rather than her father's death. But the dubious conceit of a mad woman spelling out her lover's name in branches and flowers just before she dies is too great a stretch for the imagination. Are they meant to be the &quot;fantastic garlands&quot; described by Gertrude in Act IV, Scene vii, in her account of Ophelia's death? </li></ul><ul><li>Shakespeare was one of Severn's favorite sources for pictures. He also painted Hermia and Helena (1819), several pictures of Ariel from The Tempest , Cordelia at the Bed of Lear (1828), Puck (1836), and in 1840 Portia with the Casket (Christian 177). </li></ul>
  3. 3. Richard Redgrave, 1842 <ul><li>Richard Redgrave's Ophelia Weaving Her Garlands was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842; in the catalogue for the exhibition were these lines spoken by Gertrude in Act IV, Scene vii of Hamlet : &quot;There is a willow grows ascant the brook, / That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. / Therewith fantastic garlands did she make / Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples. . . .&quot; The painting was reviewed in The Art Union in the same year: the reviewer says he would not have &quot;recognized Mr. Redgrave in this picture; not, be it understood from a want of excellence, but from its inconsonance with all our impressions of its author. The title is followed by a quotation--'There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook,' &c. and, according to its description, Ophelia is occupied in making 'fantastic garlands' of 'Crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.' She is pale--woe-begone--and her restless, fevered eyes, bespeak a mind diseased. The painting of her dress, which is white, resembles the manner of some of the old masters, a feeling which is extended to the banks of the brook, this part of the work being enamelled on the canvass like the foreground of some of Giorgione's garden scenes&quot; (121). Looking back and reevaluating the painting in 1859, the critic for the Art Journal , with a fresh perspective and a name for the style employed by Redgrave, observes that &quot;the figure is an admirable embodiment of the poet's character, and the landscape is painted with a finish and attention to detail which, in our day, would be called 'Pre-Raffaelism'.&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>The composition and setting, as the first reviewer suggests, is classical and the details of the tree-trunk, the flowers, and Ophelia's gown are masterful; the &quot;mind diseased&quot; is, however, not so obvious if one does not know the source of the painting and the story of Ophelia. Her face has about it more of a traditional Italian Madonna than a love-sick, half-crazed girl. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Arthur Hughes, 1852 <ul><li>Although Arthur Hughes may casually allude to Redgrave's painting in his Ophelia (1852) with the trunk of the tree and the bank of the stream, the resemblance ends there. Hughes depicts Ophelia as a sickly, pale, almost girlish figure who looks down into the water and idly drops blossoms into the stream. Elaine Showalter's distaste for the work is obvious; the painting &quot;shows a tiny waiflike creature--a sort of Tinker Bell Ophelia--in a filmy white gown, perched on a tree trunk by the stream. The overall effect is softened, sexless, and hazy, although the straw in her hair resembles a crown of thorns.&quot; Ophelia is a &quot;juxtaposition of childlike femininity and Christian martyrdom&quot; (84-5). But then perhaps Hughes, like most Victorian men, preferred his women childlike, ill, and therefore dependent, as Bram Djistra suggests as he evaluates the painting: we find Ophelia &quot;at the edge of the brook where Shakespeare placed her. In a state of madness and anguish, she has crowned herself with reeds as she watches the flowers she drops in the water float away in anticipation of her own imminent fate. She is emaciated and tubercular and therefore has all the requisite attributes of the icons of illness. Consumptive fever has heightened the contrast between the pallor of her skin and her red lips and the deathlike shadows around her eyes. In the issue of The Art Journal in which the engraving . . . was first published, an enthusiastic commentator remarked on Hughes' singular success in bringing a 'look of vacancy' into Ophelia's 'sweet, child-like face'&quot; (43). </li></ul>
  5. 5. John Everett Millais, 1852 <ul><li>John Everett Millais's Ophelia was shown at the same Royal Academy Exhibition in 1852 as the painting by Hughes; imagine the reaction of the viewer who had just seen Hughes's picture and then looked next at Millais's vibrant, detailed rendering of Ophelia's death, what one reviewer calls the &quot;least practicable subject in the entire play&quot; ( The Art Journal XIV:174). The painting was harshly criticized by most reviewers (Altick 300-1), but The Art Journal , recognizing the technical skill of Millais, was willing to write off its deficiencies to youthful enthusiasm and inexperience: &quot;Yet what misconception soever may characterise these works, they plainly declare that when this painter shall have got rid of the wild oats of his art, with some other vegetable anomalies, his future promises works of an excellent, which no human hand my have yet excelled&quot; (XIV:174). The opinion of critics is that the details--&quot;vegetable anomalies&quot;--overwhelm Ophelia, thus reducing her anguish to a mere part of the scene. Millais did, in fact, carefully select and paint his flowers and flora so that most of them are identifiable. </li></ul><ul><li>Dozens of flowers and plants are depicted--violets, pansies, daisies, fritillaries, poppies, loosestrife, forget-me-nots, nettles, willows and many more. Nor, apparently (with typical Victorian romanticism) did he overlook the symbolic meaning of some of the flowers: the pansies signify love in vain or thought (the name is derived from the French penser ) poppies signify sleep and death, fritillaries sorrow, violets death in youth and daisies innocence. Some of these, and some of the other flowers Millais includes, are referred to Act IV scene v of Shakespeare's tragedy, in which Ophelia recites the names of flowers she has been gathering. (Lister plate 73) </li></ul><ul><li>Ophelia is for us one of Millais's best-known and admired pictures, but the critics in 1852 found little to like about it. Altick cites an an example the critic of the Athenaeum who judges the face of Ophelia totally inappropriate: &quot;The open mouth is somewhat gaping and gabyish,--the expression is in no way suggestive of her past tale. There is no pathos, no melancholy, no brightening up, no last lucid interval. If she die swan-like with a song, there is no sound or melody, no poetry in this strain&quot; (301). Ophelia's expression seems right to us now; she has retreated so far into her madness that she lies motionless and emotionless, oblivious of her doom. Millais took pains to capture just the expression he wanted, as a study of his model Elizabeth Siddal reveals. The 1852 sketch (pencil, 9 x 12 inches) is owned by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Eugène Delacroix, 1853 <ul><li>Delacroix painted an earlier and somewhat larger version of Ophelia's drowning in 1838. Delacroix chose subjects from Shakespeare's plays several times, but no play received more of his attention than Hamlet ; he produced a series of lithographs on the play that were heavily influenced by the Paris performance of Hamlet in 1827, with Harriet Smithson playing Ophelia. In Delacroix's various depictions of Ophelia we see, according to Peter Raby, the first real elements of sexuality and eroticism: There is a strongly sensual quality in the image, created by the loose, partly transparent clothing and the trance-like expression on Ophelia's features, as she lies poised between life and death. The mood is less poignant than quietly triumphant . . . . The same sense of barely suppressed eroticism is present in the lithograph of the mad Ophelia, kneeling, with bare arms and prominent breasts ; this illustration reproduces the traditional stage properties of the veil mistaken for a shroud, and the hair decorated like a crown of thorns. Delacroix's works at the least testify to the potency of Ophelia as image for the Romantic period, a symbol both of wounded, self-absorbed sexuality and of the destruction of innocence by an indifferent world. (181-2) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1868 <ul><li>The first signs of madness occur in Act IV, Scene v; Claudius says to Horatio, &quot;Follow her close; give her good watch, I pray you.&quot; She exits and then her brother Laertes enters. She has in this early part of the scene the rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbines, rue and daisies she will give to Laertes, the King, and the Queen later in the scene before she leaves the stage and goes to her death. </li></ul>
  8. 8. James Sant <ul><li>This half-length &quot;portrait&quot; of Ophelia looks more like the picture of a child than of a woman capable of the attentions of the thirty-year-old Hamlet. Ophelia, wreathed in flowers and holding a pansy (&quot;that's for thoughts&quot;), is more puzzled--even vacant--than mad. Sant's keep-sake portrait is clearly aligned with the tradition of a young, vulnerable, and delicate Ophelia. </li></ul>
  9. 9. O’Neil, 1874 <ul><li>The details, in particular the dress Ophelia wears, are brilliantly executed, but O'Neil so obviously alludes to Redgrave and Hughes that he offers little that is new. O'Neil had done an earlier painting of Ophelia and Laertes that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852, the same year that Hughes and Millais showed their paintings of Ophelia. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Madeleine Lemaire, 1880s <ul><li>The Ophelia of Madeleine Lemaire, painted in the 1880's, presents a strikingly different interpretation of the character. Breasts bared, she looks lasciviously into the distance as she steps into the stream. One has little doubt that this Ophelia's madness is related not just to grief but to frustrated sexuality. Dijkstra says that Lemaire depicted Shakespeare's heroine in the precarious, tottering stance introduced a century earlier by Sir Joshua Reynolds in certain of his full-length studies of society ladies. In addition, she placed her, as was generally customary, among the reeds and flowers at the water's edge. But what was far from customary was that she made Ophelia leer with the glowering light of a vampire in her eyes, thus emphasizing the sexual origin of her madness--an aspect further accentuated by the very undecorous fashion in which her dress has slipped off her shoulders to reveal her breasts. Male painters, in contrast, preferred to show Ophelia fully clothed to emphasize the heroic nature of her choice of madness and death over a state of dangerous arousal. (44) </li></ul>
  11. 11. Maurice, Greiffenhagen, 1885 <ul><li>Maurice Greiffenhagen (1862-1931) was best known as an illustrator; he worked with Rider Haggard and created the illustrations for the popular novel She . Laertes and Ophelia was exhibited at the New English Art Club in 1887. An engraving of the painting is reproduced in the Art Journal , volume 56 (1894). The image of Ophelia is traditional, but more interesting perhaps than the figures of Laertes and his sister in the foreground are the rigid, expressionless Claudius in the background and Gertrude, who turns her face, unable to watch the incoherent singing and dancing of the mad Ophelia. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Marcus Stone, 1888 <ul><li>Marcus Stone's Ophelia was shown in 1888 in an exhibition of twenty-one paintings sponsored by the newspaper Graphic. The series of pictures was entitled Shakespeare's Heroines. Stone's composed, serene Ophelia appears decorously garbed in white, idly fingering the flowers she has gathered; she seems to be kneeling, perhaps in prayer or quiet contemplation. Beside her we see the neck of a lute; does Stone imagine her using the instrument to accompany her singing in Act IV, scene v? The &quot;keepsake&quot; qualities of the painting--the pose and Ophelia's expression--are not convincing and there is nothing that really conveys her madness and her eminent self-destruction. </li></ul>
  13. 13. E.T., late 19th c. <ul><li>This late nineteenth-century painting owned by The Folger Shakespeare Library is by an artist known only as &quot;E. T.&quot; At the bottom of the picture we barely see the stream Ophelia is about to step into; the most striking aspect of the picture is Ophelia's intense stare that seems to look across the stream at a viewer standing on the opposite side. William Pressly describes the scene in fuller detail in his catalog of the Folger's paintings: </li></ul><ul><li>Ophelia wears a white satin dress enlivened with blue sleeves, with a yellow lining and with gold trim on the bodice. The theatre historian George Odell mentions that white satin, in contrast to black velvet, is the usual dress for gentle, less tragic heroines, such as Juliet, and for mad ladies. . . . Ophelia is dramatically highlighted as if painted in direct sunlight, while the densely executed background is dark and subdued. Instead of being portrayed as manic or sweetly sad, she is shown with an intense, abstracted expression, her left hand clenched, her eyes shrouded in melancholy shadows. One blue slipper peeps out from beneath her gown, suggesting her inexorable progress toward the beckoning brook with its promise of welcoming oblivion. (49-50) </li></ul><ul><li>Is this an Ophelia deliberately and purposefully bent on her own destruction? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Henrietta Rae, 1890 <ul><li>Henrietta Rae's Ophelia reverts to tradition with a composed, flower-bedecked innocent young girl in white. Rae, like Benjamin West, includes Gertrude and Claudius, huddled together in distress, and their dismay competes with Ophelia for the viewer's interest. </li></ul>
  15. 15. W.G. Simmonds, 1910 <ul><li>The Drowning of Ophelia is an illustration from an edition of the play owned by the Huntington Library. The watercolor owes an obvious debt to the painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais--including the almost identical vacant expression on the face--but especially striking in Simmonds's visualization is the white dress that billows over the water to suggest the wings of an angel. </li></ul>
  16. 16. John W. Waterhouse, 1910 <ul><li>This is the last of three paintings on Ophelia; it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1910. John Christian remarks that the painting is stylistically interesting in that &quot;the picture shows how Waterhouse combined Pre-Raphaelite subject matter with a bold impressionistic technique. Most English artists who adopted this method, notably the so-called Newlyn School, rejected the literary themes of the Pre-Raphaelites to paint scenes from modern life. Waterhouse, who knew many of the Newlyn artists, was unusual in attempting to bridge the gulf between the Pre-Raphaelite and realist traditions that divided British art from the 1880's on&quot; (191). Striking too is how Waterhouse departs from the tradition elaborated over the decades; the girlish Ophelia dressed in a simple gown of virginal white is replaced with a voluptuous, mature young woman in a tailored blue and crimson gown with elegant gold embroidery. Two children in contemporary clothing look undiscerningly from the bridge, unaware that Ophelia presses on towards her fate. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Ernest Hébert, c. 1910 <ul><li>Hébert's portrait of Ophelia is charged with a latent sexuality. The dark, hollow eyes stare defiantly at the viewer and suggest a pain and betrayal beyond her ability to cope. Dijkstra quotes the French magazine Je Sais Tout which reproduced this picture with &quot;an especially telling caption&quot;: this Ophelia is &quot;truly that helplessly abandoned ideal creature, whose hallucinating eyes see nothing more than what is within, and who, hair loosened and streaming down, will in a few moments enter gently into the stream which will carry her--a cut flower among other cut flowers--away to that world beyond whereof her madness is already an expression&quot; (43). This stark portrayal of madness and sensuality is among the most striking of the various pictures of Ophelia. </li></ul>