John Everett Millais ' Ophelia Essay

John Everett Millais ' Ophelia Essay

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John Everett Millais ' Ophelia (1852, oil on canvas) is arguably the most well-known example of Pre-Raphaelite art to modern audiences. Taking its subject from Hamlet, and on public display at Tate Britain, it is understandably already an object of much discussion. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was a small yet well-known group of Victorian artists who found inspiration in the sincerity and comparable simplicity of work, literally, prior to the career of Raphael. Millais (1829-96) was one of the three significant members, joined by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-82) and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). Their break from traditional artistic formulae was an attempt to revolt against the prism of academia and rote-learned methods championed by the Royal Academy (RA). Thus, their work was poorly acclaimed during the 19th century, with many seeing their art as grossly revolting, but also, too much of a 'revolt ' from accepted authority. This essay will attempt to consider how the specific work, Ophelia, eschewed pictorial tradition.

Considering the time in which this work arose, it is possible to argue this piece can be seen as a mainstay of RA tradition (RA inventories show over 50 depictions of Ophelia were dispplayed throughout the 19th century). Millais ' rendering of the subject, however, is, on first inspection, characteristically unconventional. The formal features of the painting are unusual; the canvas filled with a hyper realistic natural setting, the only human element, Ophelia, paling into insignificance amongst the un-orderliness of the composition. (description of formality). The piece would appear to have been inspired from a more Northern European oeuvre than a classical one, using materials appropriate to the cl...


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...e this work. Art is meant to be subversive and go beyond societal tropes, yet here the reality is it has been used as a tool of oppression as much as it has been enlightening. showing a 'woman ', (read: character), retreated so far into her madness that she lies motionless and emotionless, we are confronted with an unpleasant reality. Being physically recognizable as diseased; her pathology expressed physiognomically, Millais is forcefully connecting illness and femininity. In his book, Idols of Peversity, Bram Dijkstra dissects the sexual subtext of Victorian art, revealing the common thread of a sinister, patriarchal threat in many paintings of the era. By paying so much attention to depicting a woman in a river so realistically, Millais is almost championing himself as a pseudo-scientist, implying his rendering of his chosen subject is factually and morally right.

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