My painting of Ophelia’s death was discussed in the following publication.
Author: Stepanka Bublikova
Faculty: Faculty of Arts of Palacky University in Olomouc - Department of English
and American Studies
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"Representations of Ophelia's Death in British Art
This paper deals with the relationship between literature and the visual arts.
The relationship is clearly demonstrated with a concrete example from British
literature. It is the scene of Ophelia's death, which is not visualized on the stage
but spoken by one of the characters in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet.
In the first part of the work I concentrate on and discuss Shakespeare's
relationship with the arts and provide arguments regarding Shakespeare
as a literary painter. In the second part of my work I provide a list of the
particular representations of the..........
British painters discussed are Robert Westall, Joseph Severn and Richard Redgrave,
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The group is opened by John Everett Millais,
Arthur Hughes, George Frederic Watts, Henry Nelson O'Neil,
John William Waterhouse and finally Harold Copping. The next group focuses on the British artists who painted Ophelias after 1900 and
includes Margaret Macdonald, W. G. Simmonds and Stanley William Hayter. The list is brought to a close with the fairly contemporary British painters
Peter Blake, Annie Ovenden and Norma Galley.
Ophelia (2002) by Norma Galley
Norma Galley's Ophelia from 2002 represents the most contemporary version of the scene of Ophelia's death painted by a British artist listed in my work. It is an
almost abstract painting where the central lying figure is perceived after longer observation. The obvious abstract features correspond to the technique that
Galley used. As she says she "had painted a face" and decided she "did not like it and turned it in its side". It reminded her of a drowning woman figure and she
“recalled the story of Ophelia and developed the painting accordingly". Galley uses vivid colours. In the central part of the canvas a woman's lying figure in heavy
large dress can be identified. Orange and red hues are contrasted with a complementary blue background that suggests a dark night landscape with the full
moon. The reflecting moonlight shows that the figure, which turned out to be Ophelia, is lying or rather floating on the water surface. The texture of the painting
forms objects similar to flowers that are held in Ophelia's hands. Her face is slightly blurred but still a somehow desperate expression can be perceived from the
empty mouth and eyes. The mouth is open as if the character would sing or sigh. The yellowish colour of the woman's face, in all probability, suggests the
paleness and fear of the approaching death. The whole scene looks as if covered behind fog. An interesting part of the picture can be observed in the lower right
corner where the texture is highly wrinkly and may be interpreted as a splash of water and the falling of Ophelia in the stream.
The list of artists who painted Ophelia in the twentieth century is opened with M. Macdonald and terminated with Norma Galley, whose Ophelia encloses the
whole set of visual representations of Ophelia's death in British art. During the one hundred and fifty years that are covered in my thesis, painters had different approaches and different ideas about the visualization of the famous scene. The nineteenth century Ophelias are entirely figurative paintings with the attention
to detail and reference to the source text, i.e. Act IV, Scene 7 of Hamlet. The twentieth century artists are on the contrary more experimental. If I pass over the still
classic vision of W. G. Simmonds, I must emphasize the Ruralists, especially Sir Peter Blake, who transferred the Renaissance Shakespearean heroine into the
modern epoch of the late second half of the twentieth century, though he as well as A. Ovenden maintained the figurative composition. In contrast to the realistic figurative style, the Ophelias by M. Macdonald, S. W. Hayter and Norma Galley are almost purely abstract paintings with the more or less obvious traces of the
woman's character. In these versions, the painters focused rather on the colour symbolism and the whole atmosphere of the paintings.
To conclude my work I would like to give my personal evaluation of the representations. On the one hand, I very much appreciate the classic works of Millais and Waterhouse, as well as the more modern versions by Macdonald and Galley. Millais captivates me with his attention to detail and sense of realism that he is able
to create in Ophelia's face or in the decoration of her dress. This painting is still enjoyable even after many observations. In Waterhouse's work I particularly
admire his diversity in style and composition. I find extraordinary Ophelia's character development that he captured in his three paintings. Margaret Macdonald
brought a fragile lyricity to the representation of her Ophelia. Norma Galley's work is especially outstanding thanks to the great choice of colours and unusual
technique. On the other hand, I must say that I was not significantly impressed by Westall's and O'Neil's canvases. In my opinion, Westall's Ophelia lacks originality
and O'Neil's makes an impression of kitsch to me.”
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