Location: Tate – London
Millais’ painting is a romanticised oil painting of Ophelia – the tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The painting depicts a scene not seen on stage – Ophelia singing in the brook before finally drowning herself. Her pose in this painting connotes themes of martyrdom and saintliness – her death has often been seen as one of the most poetic sequences in any of Shakespeare’s plays.
The Pre-Raphaelite movement sought to fight against increasing industrialisation and dislocation from nature and therefore stressed the place of nature in the paintings produced -see can clearly be seen in the hyper-realism of the painting’s style. Additionally this painting engages with the Victorian interest in the language of flowers – this can be seen in the presence of poppies which, during the era symbolised sleep and death.
In order to create realism, Millais asked his model, Elizabeth Siddall, to lie, fully clothed, in a bath in order to get an idea of the composition – the other option was for her to lie in the freezing cold Hogsmill – on the outskirts of London – not favourable.
Not only is this painting quintessentially English but it has also become the epitome of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and has been valued at £30 million.