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  • Faded yellows in the water reeds

    Faded yellows in the water reeds

    © Tate, London 2003

  • Close up of faded yellows in the water reeds

    Close up of faded yellows in the water reeds

    © Tate, London 2003

  • Detail from Ophelia showing bluish foliage

    Bluish foliage

    © Tate, London 2003

In 1881 Millais wrote to William Holman Hunt who had been criticising modern painting materials: “I must be pardoned if I feel very proud and delighted to find my work standing as it does and some of them painted entirely in Robersons colours and mediums others in copal.”

Millais only retouched Ophelia on two occasions, once in December 1865 and again in 1873 after seeing it on show in an exhibition in South Kensington. Millais noticed that some of the colour had deteriorated and he wanted to restore the faded yellows in the green water-reeds and to modify the colouring of the face.

Today we can see an uneven yellow in the water weeds (see images above) and bluish foliage beside the weeping willow. This may be because Millais used a mixture of chrome yellow and Prussian blue from a ready-made tube of green paint.

Stephen Hackney, Head of Conservation Science at Tate, noted in 2003.

The paint film has a network of curvilinear cracks, which have raised edges and were very visually disturbing. The lining has reduced the raised edges but not entirely removed their effect. There are some bluish areas in the greens of the foliage in the background that may indicate further fading of yellows. The painting is currently in exhibitable condition. It has been stable since 1967. It has been loaned several times and returned undamaged.