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Ophelia: A Painting, a Character, a Legend

Ophelia has an important place in the history of art and literature, both as a painting and as a character. In this article, we will examine John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and its inspiration, the character Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. You will learn the story of the painting, how to read the painting, Millais's working techniques and specific information about the period in which the painting was painted. We will also explore the artists who were influenced by the story and painting of Ophelia.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character of Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the paintingophelia banners and lettering pink


The Story of the Painting


The story of the painting is based on the death of the character Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ophelia is a noble daughter of Denmark. She is Hamlet's lover. However, after the death of Hamlet's father and the marriage of his uncle Claudius and his mother Gertrude, Hamlet begins to go mad. Hamlet rejects Ophelia and tells her "Go to a convent". He then accidentally kills Ophelia's father Polonius. These events also drive Ophelia mad. Ophelia falls and drowns while picking flowers by a stream.


In Shakespeare's play, Ophelia's death is not shown on stage, but only told to her brother Laertes. In this narration, it is stated that Ophelia sang, talked to flowers and went into the water. Ophelia's death increases both her and Hamlet's tragedy. At Ophelia's funeral, Hamlet says how much he feels sorry for her. Laertes blames Hamlet for his sister's death and duels with him. As a result of this duel, both Hamlet and Laertes die.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the paintingophelia banner and lettering in gray

Millais' painting visualizes Ophelia's death. The painting shows the moment just before Ophelia drowns. Ophelia's face is pale but still alive. Her eyes are open but her gaze is empty. A lyric seems to fall from her lips. Her hands rest loosely on the water. Her hair and clothes are spread across the water. Under the water, the rest of her body is invisible.


The background of the painting is a natural landscape. Millais painted the landscape realistically. There are various plants, flowers, insects and animals by the river. Millais copied these details from nature. Some of the plants we see in the painting symbolize Ophelia's situation. For example, daisies stand for innocence, poppies for sleep, wild rose for love, willow for separation, daffodil for death, lily for purity and virginity. A squirrel is seen in the upper left corner of the painting and a rabbit in the upper right corner. These animals emphasize Ophelia's innocence and vulnerability.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the paintingophelia banners and banners green

Work Reading


The painting does not show the moment of Ophelia's drowning, but the moment just before it. Ophelia's face is pale but still alive. Her eyes are open but her gaze is empty. A lyric seems to fall from her lips. Her hands rest loosely on the water. Her hair and clothes are spread across the water. Under the water, the rest of her body is invisible.


The background of the painting is a natural landscape. Millais painted the landscape realistically. There are various plants, flowers, insects and animals by the river. Millais copied these details from nature. Some of the plants we see in the painting symbolize Ophelia's situation. For example, daisies stand for innocence, poppies for sleep, wild rose for love, willow for separation, daffodil for death, lily for purity and virginity. A squirrel is seen in the upper left corner of the painting and a rabbit in the upper right corner. These animals emphasize Ophelia's innocence and vulnerability.


The colors of the painting reflect Ophelia's mood. The dominant color in the painting is green. The color green symbolizes the freshness and vitality of both nature and Ophelia. However, the color green also expresses Ophelia's feelings of jealousy, illness and madness. Vivid colors such as red, blue and yellow are also used in the painting. These colors show Ophelia's lively personality and emotions. There is a dark brown color in the lower left corner of the painting. This color foreshadows Ophelia's death and decay.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the painting ophelia banner and lettering beige


Millais' Working Techniques


Millais worked in accordance with the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite movement while making the painting. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was founded in 1848 by seven artists, including Millais. This movement takes the art of the pre-Renaissance period as an example and advocates a realistic, detailed and true-to-nature approach to painting. Pre-Raphaelite artists painted serious and meaningful subjects, drew inspiration from modern life and literature, and used historical costumes.


Millais took these features into consideration while painting Ophelia. The subject of the painting is taken from Shakespeare's play Hamlet. This play is both a modern and historical work. The costume of the painting was chosen to reflect 16th century Denmark. The landscape of the painting was copied directly from nature. Millais worked outside to make the painting. This was an unusual method for that period. Because usually artists would go out to make sketches and make the finished painting in the studio. Millais finished the painting completely outside. The details in the painting were painted with incredible meticulousness. Millais painted every plant, insect and animal in the painting in true to life.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character of Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the paintingophelia banners and lettering in yellow

Influential Artists

The painting of Ophelia has inspired many artists to depict the drowning of the character Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Among these artists are the following:

John Bell:

The first known depiction of Ophelia is this illustration by Bell. Bell made a series of engravings to illustrate Shakespeare's plays in 1775-17761. In this engraving, Ophelia is seen dropping the flowers in her hand as she falls into the water.

Joseph Severn:

Severn painted Ophelia's death in 1831 in a romantic style. In the painting, Ophelia is lying face down on the water, surrounded by flowers and butterflies. Hamlet's castle is seen in the background of the painting.

Eugène Delacroix:

In 1853, Delacroix painted Ophelia's death in a dramatic way. In the painting, Ophelia seems to give a last scream as she sinks into the water. The colors of the painting are dark and gloomy.

John William Waterhouse:

In 1910, Waterhouse painted Ophelia's death in a realistic and lyrical way. In the painting, Ophelia is seen swimming in the water and singing. The colors of the painting are vivid and bright.


Ophelia:John Everett Millais' famous painting Ophelia and the character Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the inspiration for the paintingophelia banners and banners green

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