The present contemplative painting by Orchardson shows Shakespeare's tragic heroine Ophelia seated on the banks of a woodland stream. In Act 4, scene 7 of Hamlet, Queen Gertrude describes Ophelia 'with fantastic garlands did she come/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples' seated beside a brook into which she falls 'Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay/To muddy death'.
A youthful prodigy, Orchardson entered the Trustees' Academy, Edinburgh, when only thirteen and studied under John Ballantyne and Robert Scott Lauder (see lot 305). He painted in Edinburgh, mainly literary scenes from Shakespeare, Scott, Dickens and Keats, until his arrival in London in 1862. In his later career he turned his hand to the psychological dramas of upper class life by which he is best remembered, such as Le Mariage de Convenance (Glasgow Art Gallery) and its sequel Le Mariage de Convenance - After (Aberdeen Art Gallery).