Richard Redgrave. Ophelia Weaving Her Garlands, 1842.

Oil on panel, 25 x 30 inches. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Richard Redgrave's Ophelia Weaving Her Garlands was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842; in the catalogue for the exhibition were these lines spoken by Gertrude in Act IV, Scene vii of Hamlet: "There is a willow grows ascant the brook, / That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. / Therewith fantastic garlands did she make / Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples. . . ." The painting was reviewed in The Art Union in the same year: the reviewer says he would not have "recognized Mr. Redgrave in this picture; not, be it understood from a want of excellence, but from its inconsonance with all our impressions of its author. The title is followed by a quotation--'There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook,' &c. and, according to its description, Ophelia is occupied in making 'fantastic garlands' of 'Crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.' She is pale--woe-begone--and her restless, fevered eyes, bespeak a mind diseased. The painting of her dress, which is white, resembles the manner of some of the old masters, a feeling which is extended to the banks of the brook, this part of the work being enamelled on the canvass like the foreground of some of Giorgione's garden scenes" (121). Looking back and reevaluating the painting in 1859, the critic for the Art Journal, with a fresh perspective and a name for the style employed by Redgrave, observes that "the figure is an admirable embodiment of the poet's character, and the landscape is painted with a finish and attention to detail which, in our day, would be called 'Pre-Raffaelism'."

The composition and setting, as the first reviewer suggests, is classical and the details of the tree-trunk, the flowers, and Ophelia's gown are masterful; the "mind diseased" is, however, not so obvious if one does not know the source of the painting and the story of Ophelia. Her face has about it more of a traditional Italian Madonna than a love-sick, half-crazed girl.