Shakespeare through Artists’ Eyes


Ophelia among the Flowers by Odilon Redon, 1905–1908

Something strange has happened, after many years of resistance I’ve become entranced by the works of Shakespeare. No doubt I’ve been helped along by recent live theatre  screenings of  Hamlet and The Winter’s Tale – both excellent.

At the end of October I had the chance to take part in a special interest day at Culford School, hosted by NADFAS East Anglia, on the subject of Shakespeare through Artists’ Eyes and very absorbing it was.

The lecturer Vivien Hefferman helped us to read and interpret a wide selection of paintings – many of them new to me – and got us thinking about symbolism, viewpoints, where the sitter if looking,  body language and the emotions expressed, costume, surrounding landscapes and whole host of other things. It was fascinating and a great help to me in learning how to ‘read’ a painting.

We looked at paintings connected to a number of plays including Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Richard the III, from the 1700s through to the present day.

I’ve put a Pinterest page together with some examples featuring plenty of drama, beauty, tragedy and horror in paintings that depict famous actors in character, self portraits in character, imagined scenes and much more.

Stand out paintings for me include Anthony Sher’s self portrait as Richard III, Turner’s Queen Mab’s Cave,  Odilon Redon’s Ophelia among the Flowers and Gustave Moreau’s – Study for Lady Macbeth.

It also makes me think that when I go back to do Part 3  Figures for my OCA painting course I should consider painting actors in costume – or perhaps I could get into a cold bath, spread out my hair and half freeze to death like Lizzie Siddal in Millais’ Ophelia!



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