Saturday, May 3, 2008

Millais' Ophelia

When I was in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh Museum. (Say Gogh as though clearing phlegm twice from your throat for each of the g's, then you'll be pronouncing it like the Dutch!) The museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work, and I saw them all. They were, to say the very least about them, pure genius.

If you have not visited art in the original, you are missing out on an intensely satisfying and inspirational experience. Trust me--art on the internet, or even in fine picture books, does not compare to the originals in color, brilliance, size, textures, emotion. When you look at a great original, you virtually FEEL the artist touching you with his hand, his eye, his soul!

So it was with Millais' Ophelia. I knew about this painting, Ophelia, and was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam while Millais' exhibit was on display. Pretty much near starving and exhausted from hours of the Van Gogh, I went to look at it. Now I have to digress to explain that Shakespeare's Hamlet is my favorite of his plays. Usually just thinking about Ophelia can get me teary-eyed, so you can imagine how I felt in front of this huge canvas, the colors so vibrant, the details of the flowers and background absolutely sublime. It doesn't come across in digital reproductions, but the background is painted with such precision that it is almost photographic, yet not so photographically perfect that you can't also tell that the hand of the artist was involved.

Then there's Ophelia herself. Millais used a model suspended in water to perfect her pose. The story is that the model caught a cold from lying in a tub so long. Millais has painted her just as I imagine Shakespeare wrote her. In the play, great tragedy has fallen on Ophelia. Her lover has scorned her and has also murdered her father whom she loved. It is more than the gentle maiden, Ophelia, can bear, and she is driven mad. In this state, she wanders into the countryside, innocently picking flowers. Shakespeare tells us she fell, but the suggestion is also there that she floated away from life which is tragic. Millais paints her with her hands poised as though she has not accidentally fallen, but has relinquished life. Her face seems vivid with life, so you imagine she is not dead, but has surrendered to the flowing water, the day. In fact, he paints her almost as a Christ figure, innocent and sacrificial. Hamlet's sacrifice.

Needless to say, I did tear up while looking at this painting, but I was not the only one!


Pete Rahon said...

hi thanks for the visit to my blog...

oh I missed the Van Gogh exhibition here, anyway the most priceless and important of his work was not exhibitied, hehehe, so I rationalized that I ought to see the Van Gogh Museum instead... I hope... definitely I agree nothing compares to that which is up close, live and for real!

Morningangel said...

Pete, if you go to Amsterdam, also visit the Rijks Museum which is just around the corner in walking distance. Rembrandt's work is there, and it is surprising in the original. I developed a new appreciation for the artist, whom I thought was 'stuffy and old-fashioned.' He was not stuffy at all! His portraits were fascinating and vivid. He's a must-see.

Thank you for your comment!