Work of the Week: Millais Ophelia

As an Art Historian and art lover, I am so excited about today's first "Work of the Week" post; every Sunday I will be featuring one of my favorite works of art or architecture and providing some information about it!  I recently graduated from university, and what I honestly miss most about it is attending my art history classes.  The world of art history is vibrant, exciting, mysterious, and vital to human life and modern culture.

To kick off this new feature, I selected John Everett Millais: Ophelia (1851-2).  This oil on canvas work is of particular importance to me because it was one of the first paintings I studied in my freshman art history survey class that lead me to love the field of art even more.  The simultaneous presence of beauty and tragedy pulled me in and never let me go!
Millais Ophelia 1851-2
The painting is based off of Shakespeare's Hamlet , depicting the character Ophelia about to drown in a river after falling in.  Supposedly, she is supposed to still be alive here, kept afloat by her boyant dress, singing as she floats down river.  I, however, hold the opinion that Ophelia has already departed from this wold in this depiction, showing the eerie peacefullness of her quiet passing.

Here is the passage on which the painting is based:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

The most interesting aspect of this work is what Millais went through during the painting process.  He was so dedicated to accurately depicting the river scene, that he spent five months on the bank of the river capturing every detail.  For these five months, he was out there at least six days a week for about twelve hours a day…. That's dedication!

When it came to painting Ophelia, he hired a model and had her lay in a cold bathtub in his studio, completely still and fully clothed.  Eventually the model got sick and essentially sued him to pay for her medical expenses. There's some art history drama for you!

I  hope you enjoyed this first Work of the Week and I look forward to exploring a new work with you next week! Have a great Sunday---


  1. Wonderful post,dear!
    Keep in touch xoxo

    1. Thank you and thanks for stopping by!! I hope you had a great weekend :) xo

  2. this is so wonderful <3

    Would you like to follow each other on GFC, bloglovin? It would be great, just let me know :)

    Maria from

    1. Thank you! Yes, absolutely!! Would love that -- xo, Grace