John W. Waterhouse. Ophelia, 1889.

Oil on canvas.

Waterhouse returned to the subject of Ophelia several times between 1889 and 1910. The Art Journal saw in Ophelia, the first of Waterhouse's paintings on the subject, little to commend. The reviewer says it is "by no means so ambitious a work as what we had hoped for from this talented artist. It displays the mad maiden in no novelty of attitude; she lies prone in long grass, a posy of plucked buttercups in her hand, and a garland of oxeyes round her dress" (51:188).

In opposition to the critic of The Art Journal who sees only a static scene, Bram Djikstra animates the canvas and describes an Ophelia who is "rolling madly in a field, a flower toppled off her stem and seeking to regain the balance of nature" (43). His description is a trifle over-heated, perhaps, but we get the point. The scene hints at a sensuality where Ophelia, surrounded by flowers and birds, stares with an open and ambiguous expression out from the canvas at the viewer. She appears here indeed like "one incapable of her own distress" who has abandoned herself to a sensuous enjoyment of the moment.