Symbolism is the practice of representing things by symbols, or of
investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. Most of the
flowers in Ophelia are included either because they are mentioned in
the play, or for their symbolic value. Millais observed these flowers
growing wild by the river in Ewell. Because he painted the river scene
over a period of five months, flowers appear next to those that bloom
at different times of the year.
William Shakespeare was born on 26th
of April 1564 and died on 23rd
April 1616. He was an Englishpoet and playwright, widely regarded
as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-
eminent dramatist. He has written many plays and the most prominent
themes throughout them include Tragedy, Romance and Comedy. In
his time, Shakespeare wrote plays for both the rich and poor. Ophelia
is a character in his play Hamlet. She is driven mad when her father,
Polonius, is murdered by her lover, Hamlet. She dies while still very
young in grief and madness. The events shown in Millais's Ophelia
are not actually seen on stage. Instead they are referred to in a
conversation between Queen Gertrude and Ophelia's brother Laertes.
Gertrude describes how Ophelia fell into the river whilst picking
flowers and slowly drowned, singing all the while.
The Pre-Raphaelite paintings were produced in incredible detail,
direct from nature itself in the more traditional style of a 'finished
painting' (in which the surface was polished) and over an extended
period.When Millais was painting in the 19 century, it was common
for artists to work outside and produce sketches, which they would
then take back to their studio and use as reference to create a larger
finished painting. They would sketch with drawing materials on
paper, small panels (wood) or small canvasses (pieces of cloth), (see
Materials & Techniques for more information). However, Millais and
his Pre-Raphaelite friends completed their painting outside in the
open air, which was unusual for the time.
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world,
physical world, or material world. Nature refers to the phenomena of
the physical world, and also to life in general. In Millais’ Ophelia he
has created a painting where nature is recorded in photographic detail.
He is able to record texture, colours and surfaces accurately and is
considered to be one of the most successful painters who has ever
lived. The art critic John Ruskin was a supporter and patron of Pre-
Raphaelite art and considered truth to nature and hard to work to be
the most important element in creation of paintings.