Based on the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia (1851–52) by Sir John Everett Millais (1829–96) exemplifies many of the values upheld by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais, along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, formed the group in 1848 and propounded artistic principles that took their influence from the ideas of John Ruskin. The Pre-Raphaelites favoured vivid colour and detail, with a focus on and accurate depiction of nature. This piece, in all its haunting serenity, depicts the moments surrounding Ophelia’s death. The plants, among which Ophelia is shown held afloat, are loaded with symbolism and refer directly to the lines uttered by Queen Gertrude in the play. The Queen announces the news to Ophelia’s brother through an immensely poetic speech (Act 4 Scene vii), which effectively transforms Ophelia’s death into a scene of ethereal beauty. So vivid is the description that it seems already to describe a painting of the tragic event, and it has as such served as inspiration for several artworks, not just by Millais but also by John William Waterhouse, Arthur Hughes and Alexandre Cabanel.
Visual & Decorative Arts Blog
Monet produced countless works that are famed and treasured the world over, but the series of paintings of water lilies in his garden at Giverny is what he is best known for.
During the later years of his life, when cataracts were increasingly taking hold, Monet dedicated his life and work to his garden. He prolifically produced over two hundred and fifty paintings of the lilies that lay in his water garden there.
To Americans Edward Hopper’s (1882–1967) art epitomises their country during a period of change in the early-mid twentieth century. As skyscrapers rose up in New York, Hopper observed the isolation of modern living in a crowded city. In the countryside he observed the landscape in all its beauty and the vernacular architecture of rural and suburban America. Above all the lives of individuals were observed without comment; Hopper left it to the viewer to complete each narrative.
Salvador Dalí was the most complex and possibly most controversial artist of the twentieth century. Although his popularity with the public at large has never been in question, the attitude of the art world towards this giant of twentieth-century art has often been more ambivalent. The 1930s are referred to as Dalí's Surrealist period and it was during this decade that he created many of his best-known works. This includes his iconic The Persistence of Memory (1931).
Painted in 1839, this painting's full title is The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up. J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) was in his sixties when he painted it in London, and so it showcases his mastery – particularly of sea and sky – gathered over a distinguished career. Paint is layered on thickly to make up the sky and the sun's rays, which is in contrast to the delicate detail used for the ship's rigging.
Painted in 1893, The Scream is Munch’s most famous work and is generally regarded as a precursor to the Expressionist art movement. The instantly recognizable composition is both instantly striking and lastingly haunting, capturing as it does an intense emotional experience. The now iconic androgynous figure in the foreground is seemingly swept up in the same distortion that affects the landscape. This creates the impression that the whole scene pulsates with agitation and energy, in keeping with Munch’s intention to depict a subject’s personal experience of the world around them.
Vincent van Gogh (1853–90) is without a doubt one of the most famous artists of the Western world. The record auction prices achieved for his paintings, fuelled by the desire to own a part of this troubled soul, are now legendary. In a letter to his sister Willemina, Van Gogh wrote: ‘Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day’, something which is evinced in his beautiful night painting Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888).
One of Japan’s most iconic artworks, this hugely influential woodblock print was produced in the early 1830s, as the first in a series of paintings by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). Conveyed through bold blocks of eye-grabbing colour, The Great Wave is a dynamic fusion of contrasts – energy and stillness, power and vulnerability – and remains the most recognizable image of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.
Known for creating one of the first abstract paintings, Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) spent his life experimenting with his artistic talent. With Composition VII (1913) Kandinsky tried to capture the feeling of hearing music using a cacophony of form and colour that make a truly distinct style. It is considered to be one of his most recognisable and successful works.