Hamlet: Act IV, Scene V (Ophelia and Laertes)

Benjamin West1792

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum

The American colonist Benjamin West settled in London in 1763 and became the second president of Great Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts. Academicians like West were attracted to Shakespeare, not only for the enormous visual potential offered by his dramatic subjects but for nationalistic associations with great English literature. West’s picture, illustrating Act 4, Scene 5 from "Hamlet," was painted for a large speculative project organized in London in the 1790s. Each of the project’s paintings represented a scene from a Shakespeare play. The promoters of the scheme then reproduced the paintings as prints, to be sold to finance the project. The project was a failure, however, and the paintings were sold in 1805.

The American artist and inventor Robert Fulton bought "Ophelia and Laertes." After Fulton’s death, his heirs sold it to Cincinnati’s Nicholas Longworth. It was the first work by a major artist to come to Cincinnati, and it is a venerable document of the city’s cultural heritage.

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  • Title: Hamlet: Act IV, Scene V (Ophelia and Laertes)
  • Creator: Benjamin West (American, b.1738, d.1820)
  • Date Created: 1792
  • Location Created: England, United Kingdom
  • Physical Dimensions: 109 x 152 1/2 in. (276.9 x 387.4 cm)
  • Credit Line: Gift of Joseph Longworth
  • Alternate Titles: Ophelia and Laertes; Ophelia; Madness of Ophelia; Hamlet. Act IV. Scene V; Elsineur; King, Queen, Laertes; Ophelia and Courtiers; Ophelia before the King and Queen; Scene from Hamlet. (Act IV., Scene V., - The Royal Palace of Elsinore.); King, Queen, Ophelia, Laertes, and Courtiers; Insanity of Ophelia with Her Brother before the King and Queen; Shakespeare/Hamlet/Act IV Scene V/Elsinore - King, Queen, Laertes, Ophelia, etc.
  • Accession Number: 1882.230
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: oil on canvas