LONDON - Tate Britain


A tour of Tate Britain classics permanent collection, from William Blake to Ophalia and Turner.
The home of British art from 1500 to the present day.



















Turner collection - Tate Britain houses the world’s largest collection of J.M.W. Turner’s work. It is home to the Turner Bequest, comprising 300 oil paintings and many thousands of sketches and watercolours (including 300 sketchbooks). The Bequest, including all works left behind in Turner’s studio at his death in 1851, forms the vast majority of the Turner collection at Tate.
Death on a Pale Horse - This painting was not catalogued ans displayed until the 1940s, and no record survives of what Turner intended to represent. The title given by the Tate was originally 'A Skeleton falling off a Horse in Mid-Air', but the image has often been linked with th most fearsome of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, the figure here is not the traditional one of righteous vengeance. The date of this picture remains uncertain, though it seems likely to have been painted in the later 1820s. Current theories are that it may relate to the death of Turner's father in 1829, or the cholera epidemic of 1832.

Peace - Burial at Sea - Peace shows the burial at sea of Turner’s friend, the artist David Wilkie. The cool palette and saturated blacks create a striking contrast to its pair, War, hung alongside, and convey the calm of Wilkie’s dignified death, compared to Napoleon’s disgrace. The two titles War and Peace are illustrated as abstract concepts, via tone and colour, rather than as actual events. Both works were roundly criticised at the time for their lack of finishing. 
Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth - Turner painted many pictures exploring the effects of an elemental vortex. Here, there is a steam-boat at the heart of the vortex. In this context the vessel can be interpreted as a symbol of mankind’s  futile efforts to combat the forces of nature. 
It is famously said that Turner conceived this image while lashed to the mast of a ship during an actual storm at sea.  This seems to be nothing more than fiction, but the story has endured as a way of demonstrating Turner’s full-blooded engagement with the world around him.
Queen Mab's Cave - Here, Turner found his mythic subject outside classical sources. ‘Queen Mab’ is described in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as ‘the fairies’ midwife’. She reveals secret hopes in the form of dreams, which she creates by driving her chariot over people as they sleep. Turner referred to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Queen Mab is invoked during Titania’s ‘moonlight revels’. He may also have read Shelley’s poem Queen Mab. 
This painting was first exhibited in 1846.  A reviewer called it ‘a daylight dream in all the wantonness of gorgeous, bright, and positive colour, not painted but apparently flung upon the canvas’.

 Two Recumbent Nude Figures - This unfinished sketch is painted on a primed, open-weave canvas acquired in Italy. The distinctive 'sprigs' (bent nails) on its edges suggest it was transported back to London stil strechted to its original support. It was subsequently abandoned by Turner ans was neglected until being accessioned in the 1940s. Its unusual history has combined to cause damages to the canvas. As a result of those to the face Turner's underdrawing in pencil is visible. The paint used appears to be oil-based, with typical pigment such as mars red, lead white and vermilion. Examination by ultra-violet fluorescence also reveals some resin may have been added. Te picture has been newly restored for its display. 
Pre-Raphaelite works on paper - Pre-Raphaelite paintings began on paper; on sketchbooks, scraps, even backs of envelopes the artist tried out the ideas that would create a new kind of art. 
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were found art students and writers who rebelled against the establishment. The seven friends rejected the formulas of beauty and old-fashioned subjects taught at their school, the Royal Academy, and pursued more realistic styles and stories relevant to modern life. 
Fountain of Youth - Edward Coley Burne-Jones - The Muses were thought to visit a spring on Mount Parnassus which fed the fountain of youth and poetic inspiration. Both the subject matter and the free and invented nature of the drawing represent the increasing importance of imaginative vision to Burne-Jone's art. 
Desiderius - Edward Coley Burne-Jones -  In 1872 Burne-Jones began drawing figures from Edmund Spenser's allegory, The Faerie Queene. 'Desideratum' represents Amorous Desire, described by Spencer as blowing softly to ignite the sparks of passion. 
The softness of the drawing recalls late-Renaissance chalk studies, such as those by Leonardo da Vinci, the Burne-Jones admired.
The call of Perseus; Perseus and the Graiae; Perseus and the Nereids from designs for 'The story of Perseus' - Edward Coley Burne-Jones - Burne-Jones devised murals for the house of the young politician, late Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, depicting the legend of Perseus ans his quest for the hard of Medusa. He worked out his scheme for ten panels in drawings creating rhythmic compositions within and across the scenes. They remain the only clue to the intended effect, as the series was never completed. 
The goddess Athena gives Perseus a mirror and sword. He meets the three Graiae, and steals the single tooth and eye they share to make them reveal where the sea nymphs are. The Nereids; in turn, give Perseus the winged sandals of the god hermes, a helmet of invisibility and a bag in which to carry Medusa's head. 


Our Lady of Good Children - Ford Madox Brown - The anti-establishment artist Ford Madox Brown was mentor and friend to the younger Pre-Raphaelite group. Trained un Europe, he was familiar with medieval and Renaissance art. Brown admired the inventive detail, light interlocking compositions, bright colors and beautiful frames of early italian altarpieces.
Brown wanted painting which would answer 'modern' needs, however. Another title of the picture, 'Our Lady of Study Night', referred to the custom of bathing children at Saturday bedtime. The natural appearance and interaction of the mother and baby were based on Brown's partner and child. The little girl may be Brown's older daughter, Lucy, whose mother died the previous year.
The devout Childhood of St. Elizabeth of Hungary - Charles Allston Collins - Collin's image of a contemplative nun dramatises Pre-raphaelite ideals. Like the artist, she finds inspiration in past art in the form of the prayer book open at a medieval illustration, and present nature in the form of the passion flower and the garden around her. The oil version of Convent Thoughts, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, similarly combined the medieval style of Collins's sharply linear drawing with intense natural detail.
 Jesus Washing Peter's Feet - Ford Madox Brown - This precisely finished watercolor reproduced Brown's earlier large oil painting of the same title, currently display at Tate Britain.
 Paolo and Francesca da Rimini - Dante Gabriel Rossetti - In his poem Inferno, dante is guided through hell by Virgil. They witness Francesca kissing Paolo, her husband's brother and the consequences - execution and eternal punishment in the whirlwind of the lustful. dante exclaims 'Alas !'.
This watercolor interlinked art and life. A book lies open at a picture of Lancelot, who had an affair with King Arthur's wife, Guinevere. He is dressed, like Paolo, in red and blue. Both echo Rossetti and Biddall's relationship before their marriage in 1860. Francesca resembles Siddall and Rossetti was, like Paolo, his lover's tutor.

William Blake - 
‘Songs of Innocence’- This is the title-page from Blake’s illuminated book of poems, Songs of Innocence, which he first printed and published in 1789. Blake composed the verse and designed and printed the pages. He developed a technique for integrating both text and image onto a single etching plate for printing. This reflects his view of the intimate relationship between image and text, each being a comment on the other.

Plate 2 of ‘Urizen’: ‘Teach these Souls to Fly’ - This design was made for Blake's poem called The Book of Urizen. The woman is Enitharmon, who in Blake's mythology symbolises Pity. In Urizen she is made pregnant by Los and 'groaning Produc'd a man Child to the light.

First Book of Urizen - 



Satan Exulting over Eve - Blake’s Satan bears none of the marks of depravity or bestiality that one might expect. Many 18th-century artists were heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Satan appears as a sublimely heroic figure. In Blake’s picture, Satan’s evil nature may be seen to be distilled in the form of the snake. Lavater derived his reading of this creature from conventional Christian philosophy, but based his description on the paradoxical notion of the snake’s lack of form. ‘What has less, yet more physiognomy, than the serpent?’, he asks. ‘Can we not perceive in it tokens of cunning and treachery?’ 
The Good and Evil Angels - In his annotations to a text by Lavater, Blake claimed that ‘Active Evil is better than Passive Good’, rendering the figures in this picture somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps the chain attached to the ‘evil’ angel’s ankle suggests the curtailing of energy by misguided rational thought? 
In constructing his figures, Blake evokes conventional eighteenth century stereotypes. The heavy build and darker skin of the ‘evil’ angel suggest a non-European character, described by Lavater as ‘strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling’, while the fair hair and light skin of the ‘good’ angel are consonant with ideas of physical – and intellectual – perfection.
 God Judging Adam - This is a hand-finished relief etching, printed on  paper from a copper plate. The broken texture visible along the light grey outline of God's right arm was produced as the printing plate was lifted off the paper. 
Blake's figure of God resembles Urizen, a tyrannical law-maker in Blake's own mythology. God holds his sceptre in his right hand here but, because images  are reversed during printing, Blake would have had to show it in God's left hand on the copper printing plate.
 The Entombment - The white card mount for this drawing was made after Blake’s death; the embossed stamp (top left) reads ‘Turnbull’s Crayon Board’, which was not made before 1846. The mount was probably made for descendants of Blake’s patron Thomas Butts. The watercolour is ‘drum-mounted’, that is, glued along its edges to a ‘window’ cut in the board. 
The smudges of gold and black paint on the mount suggest the drawing was later framed with verre églomisé: glass painted with black and gold lines on its inner face. This method, invented by the eighteenth-century French framer J-B Glomy, became popular in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne - This watercolour illustrates a passage from chapter four of the Revelation of St John the Divine. The prophet describes a vision of a heavenly throne:  before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal... round about... were four beasts full of eyes... The four and twenty elders fall down before him... and worship him that liveth for ever and ever. 
The Book of Revelation is one of the most dramatic books of the Bible, and Blake was sensitive to its powerful imagery.   
 The Agony in the Garden - This illustrates lines from St Luke's Gospel, although the inclusion of the sleeping disciples also refers to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Christ is shown praying in the Garden of Gethsemene just before his betrayal by Judas and his arrest: And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
One of Blake's patrons described him as 'a most fervent admirer of the Bible, and intimately acquainted with its beauties.'
 The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb - This tempera is very well preserved, mainly because it was painted on thin linen canvasstuck onto thin cardboard. This is stiff enough to reduce the cracking that develops on flexible canvas. It also made it unnecessary to add the animal glue lining which has spoilt the opaque white effect of Blake's chalkpreparatory layer in many temperas. As a result, Blake's delicate painted details can still be seen as he intended. 
This is the only Blake tempera in this room in a frame dating from the time it was painted.  Blake may have chosen the frame design himself.
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth - The subject of this picture is the prime minister, William Pitt. Blake showed this work in his exhibition in 1809, describing Pitt as ‘that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war.’ 
Pitt had led Britain into war against France after the 1789 Revolution. Blake saw him as one ‘ordering the Reaper to reap the Vine of the Earth, and the Plowman to plow up the Cities and Towers’. The words reflect Blake’s apocalyptic vision of war. The huge beast, Behemoth, is under Pitt and at his command.
The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides - In this image Dante encounters the souls of those who have committed suicide and been transformed into trees as punishment for having relinquished their bodies. According to Lavater the tree has no physiognomy, so the figures are also stripped of any individuality. Harpies, mythological birds with the heads of women, feed upon them. 
Blake gives his Harpies beaks rather than noses, thereby emphasising their bestiality. The squat shape of the Harpies and their large feet are reminiscent of owls, birds described by Lavater as particularly ‘stupid’ (contrary to modern associations of the bird with wisdom). 
Dante and Virgil Approaching the Angel Who Guards the Entrance of Purgatory - Here Blake has used Prussian blue, indigo blue, vermilion, a red lake (probably brazilwood), another red lake with a pinker tone, and yellow gamboge. He never used madder, the most stable of the red lakes, as it was too expensive. 
All his pigments, except for vermilion, are sensitive to light, so it is fortunate this watercolour has not been exposed to too much light. Indigo blue and the red lakes fade faster than gamboge. This is because  the gum Blake added to make the gamboge look glossy has protected it.
Plutus - In Dante’s text Plutus, the god of riches, guards the souls of the avaricious. Evoking a belief commonly held at the time that the Jewish race was characterised by an unscrupulous desire for wealth, Blake’s figure has features that recall 18th-century images of Jews. 
Anti-Semitism permeated Lavater’s system of physiognomy, and was influenced by his personal interpretation of the Christian faith. At one stage Lavater argued that in order to achieve a higher level of existence, Jews must convert to Christianity, after which their features would begin to shed their Jewish characteristics. 
The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes - This is an illustration to chapter 1, verses 14-17, of the Book of Job. Blake uses as the main title the words which conclude verse 15. This is the end of the sentence which begins with verse 14 and which is inscribed in a curve across the top margin of the print. Verse 16 is inscribed in the bottom margin beneath the main title. Just above the main design is the winged figure of Satan strutting over the globe. He is flanked by the words of his reply to God when he was asked where he had been.
 The book of Job -
Job’s Sons and Daughters Overwhelmed by Satan - Catalogue entry Illustrations to The Book of Job: Engravings
 Job and his Daughters- This is an illustration to chapter 42, verses 13-15 of the Book of Job. The main title comes from verse 15. The names of Job's daughters were Jemima, Kezia and Kerenhappuch. They are all seen against a background which depicts some of the trials Job has passed through. On the left is the destruction of his servants by the Chaldeans, described in Job, chapter 1, verse 17. On the right is the destruction of Job's ploughmen, described in chapter 1, verses 14-15. Behind Job's head God appears in the whirlwind. Blake treated this subject in his Job series and the print is shown nearby.
Behemoth and Leviathan - The Lord points down towards two beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan, and instructs Job about the extent and power of His creation. The right hand marginal text, from the Book of Job, describes Behemoth, who dominates the land, as 'the chief of the Ways of God.' Leviathan, a Sea Monster, is 'King over all the Children of Pride.' In his book 'Jerusalem' Blake has these two monsters representatives of war by land and by sea. This relationship is explicitly seen in Blake's two pictures showing Admiral Nelson and William Pitt included in this display. One interpretation of this design is that these beasts stand for the hopelessness of material nature. The Lord is pointing out to Job the negativeness of his faith so far.
The Ghost of a Flea- John Varley – an artist, astrologer and close friend of Blake – reported in his Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1882) that Blake once had a spiritual vision of a ghost of a flea and that ‘This spirit visited his imagination in such a figure as he never anticipated in an insect.’ While drawing the spirit it told the artist that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of men who were ‘by nature bloodthirsty to excess’. In the painting it holds a cup for blood-drinking and stares eagerly towards it. Blake’s amalgamation of man and beast suggests a human character marred by animalistic traits.
 Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils - The biblical ‘Book of Job’ addresses the existence of evil and suffering in a world where a loving, all-powerful God exists. It has been described as ‘the most profound and literary work of the entire Old Testament’. 
In ‘Job’, God and Satan discuss the limits of human faith and endurance. God lets Satan force Job to undergo extreme trials and tribulations, including the destruction of his family. Despite this, as God predicted, Job’s faith remains unshaken and he is rewarded by God with the restoration of his health, wealth and family. Here Blake shows Satan torturing Job with boils. 
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve- This work shows Adam and Eve discovering their dead son. His brother Cain, the murderer, flees the scene. Despite his evil deed, Cain, appears as an ideal male figure. Here, Blake’s approach is in line with that of Lavater, who argued that someone’s appearance is often ‘better than his actions’. However Lavater also suggested that in performing an evil act the person could become disfigured, perhaps explaining Cain’s contorted body. 
Rather than follow Lavater here, Blake’s use of the body to invoke self-loathing, fear and, in the case of Eve, despair may be closer to pathognomy - a way of reading emotions about which Lavater remained sceptical. 
Joseph Wright of Derby - Vesuvius in Eruptio, with a View over the islands in the bay of Naples - In this work, painted after returning from Italy in 1775, Wright depicts a full-scale eruption of Mount Vesuvius against a still, moonlight marine landscape. Wright did not witness the eruption of Vesuvius in 1777 but the image combines his studies with scientific knowledge of volcanoes. Wright renders the whole as a highly imaginative spectacle, exploring the dramatic effects of the volcano's burning energy against the tranquility of the silvery moonlight. The juxtaposition of the contrasting natural phenomena dominates over the tiny figures in the dark foreground. To highlight the force of nature, Wright applied dabs of yellow sulphur as a paint layer onto the vermilion of the molten lava. 
British school of the 16th century - 
A Young lady aged 21, possibly Helena Snakenborg, Later Marchioness of Northampton - 
Hans Esworth - Portrait of Elizabeth Roydon, Lady Golding - 
Hans Esworth - Portrait of an Unknown lady - 
&Attributed to Steven van der Meulen - Portrait of Elizabeth I.
An Allegory of Man - Extremely few British paintings of religious subjects have survived from the 16th century. After the Reformation, Protestant unease about images meant it would have been highly controversial to display either religious paintings or alabasters. The inscription at the bottom, in English, warns against the veil of worldly vanity. Instead it urges prayer to ensure the safe passage of the soul to heaven. The resurrection Christ appears on the top. Below him, at the center, is Man, shielded by Christian and moral virtues against attacks from all sides by the Seven Deadly Sins. 

British school of the 17th century - 
The Cholmondeley Ladies - According to the inscription this painting shows 'Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed (give birth) the same day.'
Paul Van Somer - Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent.
& Robert Peake - Lady Anne Pope 

Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’ - John Constable - This is a full-size oil sketch for the painting now in the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art. Constable submitted the finished work to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1829, the year in which he was elected an Academician. He began painting six-foot canvases in 1818, in emulation of the works of the past masters of landscape such as Claude, Poussin and Rubens. He saw these large pictures as a means to gain further recognition as an artist, and to elevate what many considered the mundane subject matter of rural scenery. Unable to paint from nature on this scale, he turned increasingly to invention, and these large studio sketches enabled him to work out the compositional problems he was encountering in the preparation of his exhibition pieces. The oil sketch would be made either prior to, or simultaneously with, the finished picture.
John William Waterhouse - Saint Eulalia - Waterhouse exhibited this picture at the Royal Academy in 1885 with the following note: 'Prudentius says that the body of St. Eulalia was shrouded "by the miraculous fall of snow when lying in the forum after her martyrdom."' 
St Eulalia was martyred in 304AD for refusing to make sacrifices to the Roman gods. The method of her death was particularly gruesome: two executioners tore her body with iron hooks, then lighted torches were applied to her breasts and sides until finally, as the fire caught her hair, she was suffocated. Given the horrific circumstances of her death, and Eulalia's tender age (she is said to have been twelve years old), Waterhouse demonstrates little concern for realism. The setting for the picture is supposed to be Merida in Spain, which was then under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but has been transferred to the Forum in Rome. Eulalia's body appears totally unharmed, her exposed breasts and flowing hair giving her a seductive rather than pathetic appearance. Although there is snow falling and lying on the ground, her body is uncovered. As an explanation for these alterations to the legend, the artist includes a wooden cross on the right of the composition, implying that the martyrdom was by crucifixion. 
The composition is extremely daring: Eulalia's dramatically foreshortened body leads the eye towards a void at the centre of the picture. A group of mourners form a pyramid towards the top of the composition, but the viewer's eye is drawn back down towards the martyred figure by the right-hand soldier's spear, via a zig-zag of ropes, to the young woman's outflung arms. According to the account given by the Spanish Christian poet Prudentius (348-405), at the moment of her death, a white dove emerged from Eulalia's mouth and flew towards heaven. Waterhouse refers to this event by including sixteen doves in his painting. The youngest mourner points upwards at a single hovering dove towards the top of the picture, a symbol of Eulalia's departing soul.

John William Waterhouse - The lady of Shallot - The picture illustrates the following lines from part IV of Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shallot’:
And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shallot.
Tennyson’s poem, first published in 1832, tells of a woman who suffers under an undisclosed curse. She lives isolated in a tower on an island called Shalott, on a river which flows down from King Arthur’s castle at Camelot. Not daring to look upon reality, she is allowed to see the outside world only through its reflection in a mirror. One day she glimpses the reflected image of the handsome knight Lancelot, and cannot resist looking at him directly. The mirror cracks from side to side, and she feels the curse come upon her. The punishment that follows results in her drifting in her boat downstream to Camelot ‘singing her last song’, but dying before she reaches there. Waterhouse shows her letting go the boat’s chain, while staring at a crucifix placed in front of three guttering candles. Tennyson was a popular subject for artists of this period, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites. Waterhouse’s biographer Anthony Hobson relates that the artist owned a copy of Tennyson’s collected works, and covered every blank page with pencil sketches for paintings.
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones -The Golden Stairs- This painting is an example of Edward Burne-Jones’s interest in investigating a mood rather than telling a story. He deliberately made his pictures enigmatic and the meaning of this painting has provoked much debate. One view is that the eighteen women are spirits in an enchanted dream. The painting might also be purely decorative. The underlying idea, popularised in the 1870s by the critic Walter Pater, is that ‘all the arts aspire to the condition of music’. Paintings like this can be as much about design as meaning.
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones - Vespertina Quies - This picture evokes a mood of contemplation and stillness. Its Latin title means ‘Evening Quiet’.Edward Burne-Jones is believed to have employed a model named Elizabeth Keene, who he invited to watch him work on the painting. She is seen in a three-quarter view leaning on a balustrade a pose derived from portraits by Italian Renaissance artists. These had greatly impressed Burne-Jones on his second visit to Italy with John Ruskin, in 1862.
& George Frederic Watts and assistants - Hope - The picture is one of a series of allegorical subjects which Watts intended for a decorative scheme known as the 'House of Life'. Traditionally the figure of Hope is identified by an anchor, but Watts was seeking a fresher, more original approach. He painted blind Hope seated on a globe and playing on a lyre which has all its strings broken except one. She bends her head to listen to the faint music, but her efforts appear forlorn; the overall atmosphere is one of sadness and desolation rather than hope. The picture's sense of melancholy is enhanced by the soft brushwork and the translucent mists that envelop the floating globe.
Sir John Everett Millais - Ophelia - The scene depicted is from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, in which Ophelia, driven out of her mind when her father is murdered by her lover Hamlet, drowns herself in a stream:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Shakespeare was a favourite source for Victorian painters, and the tragic-romantic figure of Ophelia from Hamlet was an especially popular subject, featuring regularly in Royal Academy exhibitions. Arthur Hughes exhibited his version of her death scene in the same year as this picture was shown (Manchester City Art Gallery).
Millais began the background in July 1851, at Ewell, Surrey. In accordance with the aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he painted with close observation of nature. Millais quickly found, however, that such intense study was not without problems, and was moved to remark in a letter to Mrs Thomas Combe,
My martyrdom is more trying than any I have hitherto experienced. The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh ... I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay ... 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 ... Certainly the painting of a picture under such circumstances would be a greater punishment to a murderer than hanging.
(J.G. Millais I, pp.119-20)
 The figure of Ophelia was added afterwards. The model, Elizabeth Siddal, a favourite of the Pre-Raphaelites who later married Rossetti, was required to pose over a four month period in a bath full of water kept warm by lamps underneath. The lamps went out on one occasion, causing her to catch a severe cold. Her father threatened the artist with legal action until he agreed to pay the doctor's bills.

The plants, most of which have symbolic significance, were depicted with painstaking botanical detail. The roses near Ophelia's cheek and dress, and the field rose on the bank, may allude to her brother Laertes calling her 'rose of May'. The willow, nettle and daisy are associated with forsaken love, pain, and innocence. Pansies refer to love in vain. Violets, which Ophelia wears in a chain around her neck, stand for faithfulness, chastity or death of the young, any of which meanings could apply here. The poppy signifies death. Forget-me-nots float in the water. Millais wrote to Thomas Combe in March 1852: 'Today I have purchased a really splendid lady's ancient dress - all flowered over in silver embroidery - and I am going to paint it for "Ophelia". You may imagine it is something rather good when I tell you it cost me, old and dirty as it is, four pounds' (J.G. Millais I, p.162).


Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Sancta Lilias - This is an early, unfinished version of Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel (1875-8, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University). The picture was begun in September 1873, but, after working on the head, the artist soon abandoned it and had it cut down to its current size. The subject derives from one of Rossetti's own poems, first published in 1850 in The Germ:
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope - 'Thoughts of the Past' - Thoughts of the Past, a modern-life subject, was painted in the studio below that of D.G. Rossetti (1828-82) beside the Thames at Chatham Place, London. Stanhope's portrayal of a prostitute in her lodging, who is suddenly overcome with remorse for her situation, reproduces the theme of the guilt-ridden prostitute that was prevalent in literature and paintings of the 1850s and 1860s, especially among the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers. Holman Hunt's (1827-1910) The Awakening Conscience (1853-4) (Tate N02075), is another example. A study for Thoughts of the Past (Tate N03232) reveals that Stanhope had originally conceived the woman with her eyes raised skyward, as if in silent prayer, thus emphasising the idea of her repentance. 
Theodor Von Holst - The Bride -
& Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation) A companion piece showing the Virgin's death was planned, but never begun. This partly explains the tall narrow shape of the picture, which was intended as part of a diptych. Rossetti intentionally restricted his palette almost entirely to white and the three primaries. The colour blue, symbolic of heaven, is traditionally associated with the Virgin and red symbolises the blood of Christ. Rossetti even sought a red-haired model for the Virgin's head. The composition is carefully thought out: the vertical division of space, made by the blue hanging and the edge of the bed, falls almost on the Golden Section. The dove and the lily, with one bud still to break, move across this division and are the instruments of conception. Rossetti has written the date, 'March', at the bottom of the canvas, perhaps to signify the month in which the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is held. The original frame was also inscribed with Latin mottoes, copied from a brass rubbing owned by a fellow member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, F.G. Stephens (1828-1907).
Arthur Hacker - The Annunciation - Hacker was one of a generation of British artists who trained in Paris. Here he developed a style that harmonised plein air realism with academic idealism. His art was also influenced by his travels in Spain and Morocco as indicated by the lightning and setting of this painting. The subjects derives from the 2nd century Protevangelium of James which describes Mary receiving the Annunciation from an invisible angle while gathering water from a well.
& Ford Maddox Brown - 'Take your son, Sir' - This enigmatic picture shows the artist's second wife, Emma, and their new-born son. The pose is reminiscent of a traditional Madonna and child but the mother's strained expression suggests that this is not a celebration of marriage and motherhood. The domestic details of the room are indicative of a contemporary-life subject in which this could be a kept woman offering her illegitimate child to its father, the figure reflected in the mirror. Ford Madox Brown began this picture in 1851 and although he worked on it over a number of years it remained unfinished at his death.
William Rothenstein - Parting at Morning - Rothenstein was a 19 year old student in Paris when he produced this painting. The verse inscribed at the bottom right is a quotation from a poem by Robert Browning with the same title as the picture, suggesting a tryst followed by abandonment. Where the poem takes the man's point of view, the painting provides the perspective of the woman left behind. 
Sir Thomas Brock - Eve - Brock exhibited this life-size female nude as a plaster cast at the Royal Academy in 1898. He completed the marble in the following year, and showed it at the Paris Universal Exhibition. Critics praised its combination of naturalism and spiritualism, as well as its subtlety in modelling and expression of feeling. Unusually, Eve is not presented as a sensual temptress. Instead she is shown as thoughtful, her head bowed and her left arm placed protectively across her chest, as if in shame.
Mary Sargant Florence - Children at Chess - Mary Sargant Florence painted her children Philip (aged 13) and Alix (nine) engrossed in their game. The interlocking composition excludes the viewer and there is no sentimentality. The flat treatment of the paint surface, heightened by the matt finish of the egg tempera, focuses attention on the bold pattern of line and contrasted colours. A committed feminist, Sargant Florence brought up her children in an unconventional manner, encouraging their artistic talents. Alix later became a respected psychoanalyst, and Philip a celebrated economist.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema - A Favourite Custom - This scene is set in the baths at Pompeii. In the foreground one woman playfully splashes another bathing in the 'frigidarium', a cold bath. The artist based this work on photographs of the ruins of the Stabian baths, revealed by archeologist in 1824. He has made them more luxurious by adding a marble floor and walls which would more usually have been found in larger imperial baths. this small work attracted enormous success when it was exhibited and bought immediately for the nation. 

Sir Jacob Epstein - Nan - Epstein grew up in New York, and studied in Paris before settling in London in 1905. Before the First World War he pioneered ‘direct carving’ and abstract art. In later years, he became celebrated as a portraitist, and modelled busts in clay. The sitter for this early bust was Nan Condron, a professional artist’s model, whom Epstein met at the Café Royal in Regent Street. Epstein worked from her for several years and sought a lively likeness that was expressive of her presence and character as well as her appearance.
Herbert Draper - The lament of Icarus - Icarus’s father, the inventor Daedalus, made wings that allowed them to fly away from their island prison. The exhilarated Icarus forgot warnings and soared too close to the sun, melting the wax that secured the feathers, and he fell to his death. Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 gave an optimistic picture of the present and future evolution of humankind, but it also introduced ideas of a deep and obscure past. Art and literature took up this theme of origins, man’s mythical history and struggles between animal and human nature.

Glyn Warren Philpot - Repose on the Fight into Egypt - Philpot brings an unusual interpretation to the subject of the Holy Family resting on the flight into Egypt by incorporating mythological figures including three centaurs, a sphinx and a satyr. The Holy Family are oblivious to the pagan creatures that surround them and the painting is infused with a dream-like atmosphere. The satyr, posturing nude and phallic cactus plant in the foreground also allude to pagan myths of unrestrained sexuality, but the implication is that this will be replaced by the new religion of Christianity. This may represent an attempt by Philpot to reconcile his adopted Catholicism and his homosexuality.
Eric Gill - Ex Divina Pulchritudine - 'The beauty of God is the cause of the being of all that is'. This favourite quotation of Gill's is from St Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on a mystical classical work, the 'Divine names' by Dionysius the Areopagite. It is a link between the classical gods, the Latin used by the Christian church, and the inspiration of a modern artist.