The Shakespeariad. TOP 10 Artists Who Illustrated the English Genius: from Realism to Primitivism
John Everett Millais
"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 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?
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
In case you are not thrilled, here are some other incarnations of the Shakespeare’s heroine: from Delacroix to Vrubel.
John William WaterhouseThe 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.
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 MakovskyThe 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.
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.
Salvador DalíDalí 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.
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 BlakeAnother 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 KlimtBelieve 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.
James ChristensenCalifornian Christensen, one of the most recognizable and popular modern illustrators, whose style is called positive
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
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!"