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Victorian Art + Pre-Raphaelite

Terms in this set (6)

John Everett Millias, 1851-1852
Tate Gallery, Britain
Oil on canvas

Ophelia is considered to be one of the great masterpieces of the Pre-Raphaelite style. His selection of the moment in the play Hamlet when Ophelia, driven mad by Hamlet's murder of her father, drowns herself was very unusual for the time. However, it allowed Millais to show off both his technical skill and artistic vision.

The figure of Ophelia floats in the water, her mid section slowly beginning to sink. Clothed in an antique dress that the artist purchased specially for the painting, the viewer can clearly see the weight of the fabric as it floats, but also helps to pull her down. Her hands are in the pose of submission, accepting of her fate. She is surrounded by a variety of summer flowers and other botanicals, some of which were explicitly described in Shakespeare's text, while others are included for their symbolic meaning. For example, the ring of violets around Ophelia's neck is a symbol of faithfulness, but can also refer to chastity and death.

The Hazards of Painting Outdoors:
Painted outdoors near Ewell in Surrey, Millais began the background of the painting in July of 1851. He reported that he got up everyday at 6 am, began work at 8, and did not returning to his lodgings until 7 in the evening.

Ophelia caught a cold:
Determined to depict Shakespeare's waterlogged maiden with utmost accuracy. Millais came up with the wheeze of getting his model - the 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddall, future wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - to lie, fully clothed, in a full bathtub. Oil lamps were placed underneath the tub to keep the water warm, but when they went out the artist was too engrossed in his work to notice. Lying deathly still in chilly water for hours on end left Siddall with a stinking cold, and Millais with a £50 doctor's bill.

Millais chose to focus on this positive note rather than on the bleakness of the situation, and made the scene beautiful and bright, suggesting that death doesn't have to be a dark and dismal occurrence.
Augustus Leopold Egg, 1858
Tate Gallery, Britain
Oil Paint on canvas

This is the first of a set of three modern-life pictures on the theme of the fallen woman.

The theme of the triptych is the discovery of the woman's infidelity and its consequences. In this first scene the wife lies prostrate at her husband's feet, while he sits grimly at the table and their children play cards in the background. The husband is holding a letter, evidence of his wife's adultery, and simultaneously crushes a miniature of her lover under his foot. The setting is an ordinary middle-class drawing room, but closer observation reveals that the room is full of symbols. Egg was clearly influenced in his approach by Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience of 1853 . The house of cards is collapsing, signifying the breakdown of the couple's marriage. The cards are supported by a novel by Balzac - a specialist in the theme of adultery. An apple has been cut in two, the one half (representing the wife) has fallen to the floor, the other (representing the husband) has been stabbed to the core. As a parallel, the two pictures on the wall depict the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (labelled The Fall); and a shipwreck by Clarkson Stanfield (labelled Abandoned). The couple's individual portraits hang beneath the appropriate image.

In the background of the picture the mirror reflects an open door, denoting the woman's impending departure from the home. The position of her arms and the bracelets round her wrists give the impression that she is shackled. In Victorian England a man could safely take a mistress without fear of recrimination, but for a woman to be unfaithful was an unforgivable crime.

Marriage was expected of all women; the pressure of such often resulted in a speedy and relatively unhappy union founded on economic necessity and societal convention rather than love. Egg�s depictions therefore could offer a sympathetic viewpoint of the results of the human longings for love.
James Whistler, 1875

In the mass of shadowy dark hues, vague wandering figures, and splashes of brilliant color. James Whistler was inspired by a specific event (a fireworks display over London's Cremorne Gardens) the intangibility, both in appearance and theme, of the oil on panel was deliberate. The questions it conjures, the emotions it evokes, may differ from one viewer to another, and frankly, that's the point.

Rose a lot of controversy as to whether it could really be considered art or not. What makes this painting different from most other paintings is the lack of a focal point and the intention that Whistler had for the viewer to see all of the painting together as one rather than as separate pieces put together. Some may argue that there is a clear focal point on the left side of the painting.

But there are a couple of things that keep there from being a clear focal point. First, in the top right corner there is a cluster of gold dots (probably sparks) that want attention, pulling you away from the perceived focal point of the painting. The second is the seemingly ghosted, greenish, figures along the bottom of the painting. I'm not sure whether these are people or plants or something completely different; either way they also want the viewer's attention and pull you away from the perceived focal point.

The visible, and very loose, brush strokes fit this painting in with the impressionist style along with the fact that it, supposedly, depicts an outdoor scene and shows a split second in time.