Art Inspired by Shakespeare
Many Artists have been inspired to create art based on the words and characters of Shakespeare. Here are just a few of them…
Ophelia by John Everett Millais
Probably one of the most famous, this is ‘Ophelia’ by John Everett Millais (1829-1896). It depicts the scene from Hamlet when, driven mad by Hamlet’s murder of her Father and his emotional cruelty, she drowns herself. Whilst posing for the painting, the model, Lizzie Siddal, became very ill after the lamps heating the bath she was in went out. Millais was threatened with court action by her Father and finally resolved the case by paying for the medical bills.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by Alphonse Mucha
And here is the Prince of Denmark, himself. Or I should say ‘herself’. This advertisement painted by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) shows the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, taking the role in her own adaption of the play performed in 1899 in her native France. Mucha’s style is much appreciated and imitated today but Mucha, himself, was rather frustrated during his career at being considered a Commercial Artist and not a Painter of any note.
Cordelia's Portion by Ford Madox Brown
Mental Illness touches quite a number of Shakespeare’s characters including Ophelia, Lady Macbeth and, of course, King Lear. This painting, ‘Cordelia’s Portion’, by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) shows King Lear making the first of his decisions that lead, ultimately, to his break down and the tragic deaths of most of the characters. This is the decision to apportion his kingdom between his two eldest daughters and cut out Cordelia based on how he perceives their declarations of love for him. The two older sisters eloquently flatter him whilst Cordelia, although genuinely devoted, uses simple words that far from impress him and lead to her banishment.
Romeo and Juliet by Frank Dicksee
Another tragic heroine is, of course, the young Juliet with her equally tragic lover, Romeo. The Artist capturing the moment when they share a stolen kiss on Juliet’s balcony is English Painter, Royal Academician and Illustrator, Sir Frank Dicksee (1853-1928). A true Victorian Painter, he passionately championed the Victorian ideals of High Art and publicly condemned the artistic trends that emerged towards the end of his life.
Portia and Shylock by Edward Alcock
Not all of Shakespeare’s female characters are mad, bad or sad. Here we see Portia, the rich, beautiful and intelligent heiress who outwits Shylock and denies him his pound of flesh in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. This scene, painted by Edward Alcock (1716 – 1817), shows her disguised as a Lawyer’s apprentice arguing the case for Antonio with his accuser, Shylock. Alcock was an English portrait painter and miniaturist who appears to have travelled extensively around the country during his career maybe as his commissions dictated.
Miranda in the Tempest by John William Waterhouse
This painting depicts Miranda, Prospero’s Daughter in ‘The Tempest’ painted by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) who painted a number of versions of the scene. This version, capturing the moment when Miranda sees the shipwreck and runs to beg her Father to save the sailors from the tempest his magic has conjured, is far more dramatic than versions he painted at the start of his career and the influence of Impressionism can be seen on his Pre-Raphaelite style.
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake
Another of Shakespeare’s plays that involves magic and fairies is ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. This depiction of a scene from the play is called ‘Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing’ and is painted by William Blake (1757-1827). Blake was particularly taken with Shakespeare and painted many of his characters – usually with a supernatural twist. His style and view on the subject certainly captures the dreamlike qualities of the story.
Detail from Richard III and Lady Anne by Edwin Austin Abbey
Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard III has done more than most to skew our view of this period of history and it is Richard – the villain – created by Shakespeare that has captured Artists’ imaginations. Here he is clearly shown as the crippled, conniving King as he limps alongside Lady Anne Neville trying to woo her as she walks in her husband’s funeral cortege! The Artist is Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911), an American Painter, Muralist and Illustrator who flourished in the ‘Golden Age of Illustration’. This was a period between 1880 and 1930 which revelled in unprecedented excellence in book and magazine Illustration brought about by advances in art reproduction and a massive rise in public demand for graphic art.
7 Ages of Man by Richard Kindersley
The last two examples we have for you are not depictions of any of Shakespeare’s characters at all but are, instead, inspired by passages of text. This sculpture, which stands outside the BT building in Blackfriars, London, is by Richard Kindersley and concentrates on the ‘7 ages of man’ speech that Jacques makes in ‘As you like it’ – also known as the famous ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue. The 7 ages are infant, scholar, lover, soldier, judge, pantolone and old age.
Queen Mab's Cave by JMW Turner
And finally, this painting is by the unmistakable JMW Turner (1775-1851) and is called ‘Queen Mab’s Cave’. Queen Mab does not appear in any of the plays but is referred to in a speech made by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. She is described as a miniature Fairy who gives birth to dreams, rides her chariot over sleepers’ noses playing pranks on them and “delivers the fancies of sleeping men’.