Millais spent four months painting the background vegetation for this recreation of Ophelia. The exquisite flowers floating on the surface of the water are not simply decorative and naturalistic; they were carefully chosen for their traditional symbolic meanings: |
Violets: Early death
Pansies: love in vain
Some of these, and some of the other flowers Millais includes, are referred to in Act IV scene v of Shakespeare's tragedy, in which Ophelia recites the names of flowers she has been gathering:
There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that's for thoughts...There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o'Sundays: O, you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end, --
After finishing the background, Millais returned to London to paint his model, Elizabeth Siddal, posing in a bath full of water.
See also: fellow Pre-
Raphaelite Arthur Hughes' visions of Ophelia.