This is one of my favourite paintings. I used to hang it on my lounge wall, but after moving a few times – the last time from London to Nantes – it went missing. I then saw it again a few years ago in Nantes’s art gallery.
Ophelia is one of the most popular Pre-Raphaelite works in the Tate collection. Millais’s image of the tragic death of Ophelia, as she falls into the stream and drowns, is one of the best-known illustrations from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
Most of the flowers in Ophelia are included either because they are mentioned in the play, or for their symbolic value. Millais saw these flowers growing wild by the river in Ewell (where he painted the landscape of the painting – the figure was painted later in his studio).
Because he painted the river scene over a period of five months, flowers that bloom at different times of the year appear next to each other. The willow tree hanging over Orphelia represents foresaken love.
Millais always painted directly from nature itself with great attention to detail. The flowers are painted from real, individual flowers and Millais shows the dead and broken leaves as well as the flowers in full bloom.
So why have Gucci reinvented it for its Spring/Summer campaign?
The brand has collaborated with Spanish artist and illustrator Ignasi Monreal to create a series of paintings, inspired by classic artworks, which place designs from the collection in surreal tableaux.
Monreal previously looked to Greek mythology for Gucci’s gifting campaign, this time there are some famous artworks that you might recognise like Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait”, Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” and, as stated above, the instantly recognisable “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais.
A nice reinvention of this pre-raphaelite painting through the use of colour, atmosphere and gestures, although I am not sure it is selling the dress to its best advantage. But that’s not the point. Gucci is associating its brand with art – and this is a very popular strategy today for luxury brands – It’s No.17 in the list of the 24 Anti-Laws of Marketing for luxury brands. Cultivate closeness to the arts for initiates.