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This is the drowning Ophelia from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Picking flowers she slips and falls into a stream. Mad with grief after her father’s murder by Hamlet, her lover, she allows herself to die. The flowers she holds are symbolic: the poppy means death, daisies innocence and pansies love in vain.The painting was regarded in its day as one of the most accurate and elaborate studies of nature ever made. The background was painted from life by the Hogsmill river in Surrey. Elizabeth Siddal posed for Ophelia in a bath of water kept warm by lamps underneath.

July 2007