A Study of Arthur Hughes' Ophelia

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Miranda McGill
Prof. Yager
ART202 - 052: Final Paper
April 30, 2011
Arthur Hughes’ Opheia
This is a study of Arthur Hughes’ Ophelia. Painted circa 1851-53, oil on canvas, it is 27’’ x 48 3/4’’. Currently, it resides in the Manchester City Art Gallery in the United Kingdom. The painting is of a young blonde girl, thin and pale, with a self-made crown of reeds atop her blonde hair. Her expression is sad, fixated downward. The female featured is frail, almost sickly looking, and is developed in both sorrow and insanity. Contrasting bright colors are used, and each object is painstakingly accurate, as was popular of the PRB when he painted this. She holds flowers, dropping them slowly in the murky lake beneath the L-bend tree on which she is seated. The area around her is overgrown and wild, with very few trees. Behind her is an open field, ending at the horizon with trees. The sun seems to be setting. The setting is meant to be wild, untamed; the pond is infested with algae, the grass rises high around her. A bat swoops underneath the tree on which she sits, flying towards the viewer. The artist enclosed this picture with a border, making the painting semi-cirular, and around it he has quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet; “There is a willow grows aslant the 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.
There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang an envious sliver broke.
When down the weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.”
-Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VII.
(Interestingly enough, his self-framing left out this quote “That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, / but our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them;”) The lines are thin and sweeping, creating a curved plane that is both vertical and horizontal. The image is very two-dimensional, careful shading adding depth to the piece. It is very realistic, the moody image and bright colors a contrast to the somber theme. Both the setting sun, the pale girl, and her white gown create a contrast to the dark waters, and shadowy trees. The forefront is crowded, but behind Ophelia, the field extends openly until the woods on the horizon encloses it. All of this is enclosed within the frame of the work, where red and blue gothic script set the tale for the image. Arthur Hughes discovered the pre-Raphaelites the year after he exhibited his first finished painting, and became inspired by their movement. Although never an official member of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (PRB), he was acquaintances with many of the most famous members, like Millais, who also exhibited an Ophelia painting at the same showing, and had Hughes sit for his piece, The Proscribed Royalist, or Alexander Munro, which he shared an art studio with. The Pre-Raphalite Brotherhood was founded by William Hunt, Dante Rossetti, John Millais, William Rossetti, James Collinson, Thomas Woolner and F.G. Stephens to reform art against the “frivolous art of the day”; hoping to bring English art back to the simplistic early 15th century art. They opposed the popular contemporary view of Raphael as the greatest Renaissance master. They painted highly religious or romantic subjects often, focusing on realism and relying on direct observation. There were two groups of the Brotherhood, and Hughes followed the second, formed by Dante Rossetti. The art was direct renderings of literary pieces, drawing heavily from Shakespeare, Dante, and, in more contemporary times, Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson. They felt that the arts were closely connected, often encouraging artists to write and writers to draw. They defied and tested every convention of art that was popular at the time. And, importantly, precision was key to the PRB-choosing to represent each object with an almost photographic representation, although this often created disconnected pieces in the art. The...
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