'Ophelia', Henrietta Rae, 1890
Oil on canvas, 171.5 x 230.5cm
Accession Number WAG3081
Henrietta Rae made her name painting literary and classical subjects and portraits. She was married to painter Ernest Normand (1857 - 1923). In 1893 Rae became the first woman to sit on the Hanging Committee of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, the annual exhibition held at Walker Art Gallery. She also played a part in persuading Walker Art Gallery to buy 'The Punishment of Lust' by the then little-known Italian Symbolist painter Giovanni Segantini.
The heroine Ophelia was popular with 19th century artists. Rae shows the moment in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' (Act 4, Scene 5) when Ophelia, mad with grief, symbolically recites the names of and scatters rue (a bitter herb), rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbine, daisies and violets.
'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.'
This romantic, theatrical image was, according to Normand, painted under the influence of the couple's neighbour, the artist Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896).
It is interesting to note the composition of this painting, split almost perfectly in half, between light and dark. This perhaps symbolises the rent in Ophelia's mind caused by her grief.