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The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism

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When exactly was William Shakespeare born, what kind of person wrote the plays and sonnets signed with this name? The most famous portrait of Shakespeare in the title of this text was considered lifetime, but in 2005 it was also recognized as a fake made a couple of centuries after the death of the genius. However, it is not difficult to imagine what Shakespeare’s characters looked like: he described them in detail, and numerous illustrators have lovingly portrayed them.
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
Arthive presents ten most interesting artists who have left portraits of Shakespearean characters.

John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais. Ophelia
Ophelia
1852, 76.2×111.8 cm
Perhaps, artist love Ophelia most of all the Shakespearean heroines. And the most famous Ophelia in the visual arts was certainly painted by Millais. It is curious that, depicting the mournful plot about the death of Hamlet’s beloved on his canvas, the artist was only grieving about one thing: his inconveniences in the open air. However, he talks about them in English, witty and hilarious:

"I sit tailor-fashion under an umbrella throwing a shadow scarcely larger than a halfpenny for eleven hours, with a child’s mug within reach to satisfy my thirst from the running stream beside me. I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay; likewise by the admission of a bull in the same field after the said hay be cut; am also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water, and becoming intimate with the feelings of Ophelia when that lady sank to muddy death, together with the (less likely) total disappearance, through the voracity of the flies. There are two swans who not a little add to my misery by persisting in watching me from the exact spot I wish to paint, occasionally destroying every water-weed within their reach."
Nature, painted in such a botanically exact way, is almost more important than the main character in

Nature, painted in such a botanically exact way, is almost more important than the main character in Ophelia by Millais. Therefore, this picture is also one of the most famous landscapes in world painting. And one of the most cited paintings. Do you recognize Ophelia on the posters for Lars von Trier’s film Melancholy?

David Burliuk

As you might guess, this Ophelia doesn’t have any long history of creation. It is only worth noting the fact that the father of Russian futurism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more
The art movement developed in the first quarter of the 20th century, mainly in Italy and Russia. Some ironically called it scandalous cubism. The founding fathers urged to stop adoring the art of the past, and to exalt the industrial spirit of the future: to draw airplanes, cars, metal bridges, steamers and other achievements of the progress. Read more
tried on the role of a primitivist artist here.

In case you are not thrilled, here are some other incarnations of the Shakespeare’s heroine: from Delacroix to Vrubel.

John William Waterhouse

The bonus collection of Ophelias given above may be supplemented with the works of another Pre-Raphaelite, John Waterhouse: he also had tender feelings for Hamlet’s beloved — he painted her all his life.
In his collection of Shakespeare’s images, there are also young Juliet and Miranda, the heroine of The Tempest play, a red-haired one, as befits the Pre-Raphaelites:
But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fai

But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she…

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.

(Romeo to Juliet)

Konstantin Makovsky

The main ladies' man among Russian artists, Konstantin Makovsky could not ignore Shakespeare’s heroines. He also has Ophelia depicted as a Russian beauty (in triplicate), as well as Juliet.

Francesco Hayez

Francesco Ayets. Kiss
Kiss
1859, 112×88 cm
This Italian has depicted countless scenes of Romeo and Juliet, not all of the canvases have even come down to us. They were sold well, and indignation about excessive, unprecedented sensuality only fuelled the interest of the public. One picture has gone down in history — with Juliet in a blue dress, titled The Kiss.
We do not see the faces of the heroes, all attention is focused on the action for which they are gathered.

This kiss is known not only in painting, but also in cinema — directors like to capture characters in each other’s arms in this way. Franco Zeffirelli did the same in his Romeo and Juliet.
Of course, this famous picture also became an excellent cause for jokes.
  • A still from the Romeo and Juliet movie by Franco Zeffirelli.
  • The cat or not the cat — that is the question...

Salvador Dalí

Dalí made a series of illustrations for Romeo and Juliet in 1975. The book was only published in 999 copies, moreover, their sets of illustrations differed — 35 versions of the book were made.
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
And here is how Dalí's fantasies on the theme of Romeo and Juliet looked like in 1942:
By the way, in 1924, in the First Surrealist Manifesto, Shakespeare was also named among the fathers

By the way, in 1924, in the First Surrealist Manifesto, Shakespeare was also named among the fathers of the new trend. It is no surprise that Dalí knew the dreams of Shakespeare’s characters. This work of 1982 is called Othello Dreaming Venice.

William Blake

Another famous visionary, William Blake, was not indifferent to the genius of Shakespeare. As an illustrator, he surely became famous primarily for his works on Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost, but the heroes of Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are charming.

Gustav Klimt

Believe it or not, this is Klimt. This image is taken from the ceiling of the Vienna Burgtheater, which he painted with his brother at the beginning of his career. The fresco depicts Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre performing Romeo and Juliet.
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism

James Christensen

Californian Christensen, one of the most recognizable and popular modern illustrators, whose style is called positive surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more
Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
, says: "If I took all my best artistic qualities and exaggerated them to become some sort of creative superhero, I like to think I’d be a lot like Shakespeare."
The fans of both Shakespeare and Christensen, have only one complaint about the Shakespearean Fantasy: why the heroes and plots of all his 38 plays are not presented on the magical island?! The artist only laughs it off: "They're all there — just go around the island and look from the other side!"
The Fantasy is intended not only to please the eye, but also to train attention. First, try to identify all the heroes without a hint (which we prudently provide you with below). Secondly, keep in mind that both the Fantasy and the other Christensen’s work dedicated to Shakespeare, All The World’s A Stage, were published, among other things, in the form of puzzles. By the way, at the second work, Christensen portrayed himself as Caesar.
  • The key in Shakespearean Fantasy.
  • James Christensen. All The World’s A Stage

Vladyslav Yerko

The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
Christensen’s crowded illustrations evoke not only Bruegel and Bosch, but also his Ukrainian colleague illustrator, the favourite artist of Paolo Coelho and J. K. Rowling, Vladyslav Yerko. You are probably familiar with his breathtaking work from the books The Snow Queen and Tales of the Foggy Albion. And in 2008, Yerko illustrated the Ukrainian edition of Hamlet.
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
It seems that both reading and playing the play would take less time than examining these illustrations. Whereas we only showed a part of them. In 2019, mymodernmet interviewed the creator of an online archive of Victorian artists who drew their works on Shakespeare’s plays; in the public domain, there are about 3,000 illustrations! And this is just a fraction of the vast visual world of the great plays.