T03408 Ophelia 1936
Oil, casein tempera and gesso on canvas 39 1/2 × 57 (1000 × 1445)
Inscribed ‘Hayter 36’ t.l. and ‘Ophelia 36’ and ‘No.11’ on reverse, and ‘No.1 S.W. Hayter’ on stretcher
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Robert, Amsterdam, June 1938 (50); Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States, Cincinnati Art Museum, February–March 1944, Denver Art Museum, March–April 1944, Seattle Art Museum, May–June 1944, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, June–July 1944, San Francisco Museum of Art, July 1944 (55, repr.); S.W. Hayter, Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, May–June 1973; Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1978 (12. 66, repr.)
Lit: Jacob Kainen, ‘An Interview with Stanley William Hayter’, Arts Magazine, LX, no.5, January 1986, pp.64–7
‘Ophelia’ was painted in Paris, where Hayter had lived since 1926, in his studio at 17 rue Campagne-Première. It remained in his possession until purchased by the Tate Gallery. There is an abstract painting, overpainted, on the reverse.
The title refers to Millais's painting in the Tate Gallery of the drowned Ophelia, which Hayter had known from the time of childhood visits. He described the Millais in conversation (2 February 1983) as a ‘good bad painting’, and there is no direct connection between the two works. Hayter's ‘Ophelia’ is one of his few paintings of this period which has no figurative subject, but he imagined the elements in it to be floating on the surface of water, and hence the association with the Millais.
There exists a more general connection in that Hayter had made drawings ‘after’ paintings in the surrealist technique of ‘automatic writing’, looking at the object he was copying but not at his hand. Although he did not make such copies after the Millais this type of hidden subject lies behind the status of this title. ‘Ophelia’ was exhibited specifically as surrealist in Amsterdam in 1938, and Hayter's similar ‘Pavane’, 1935, was one of the first paintings by a British artist to be published as surrealist (in David Gascoyne, ‘Premier Manifeste Anglais du Surréalisme’, Cahiers d'Art, 1935, p.106).
Several of Hayter's works of 1936–9 have casein tempera as an underpainting, although most of these were on wooden board and not canvas. This medium was purchased in Paris already made up, and was not unusual. There is a marked variety of surface texture in the painting, with some colours applied as a relief of about 1/8 in. deep, made by mixing them with plaster of Paris. There are traces of pencil drawing visible at the margins, and the artist said that he made no preparatory drawings apart from those on the canvas itself.
This entry has been approved by the artist.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986