The painting by Millais is in oil, 44 x 30 inches, and it was painted in 1851-1852. The original is at the Tate Gallery in London. Above is a study of the model, 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddal.
The painting portrays Ophelia’s death scene, as described by Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VI:
Her clothes spread wide; and, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; as one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death
Wikipedia describes the process of making the painting:
“Millais produced Ophelia in two separate stages: he first painted the landscape, and secondly the figure of Ophelia. Having found a suitable setting for the picture, Millais remained on the banks of the Hogsmill River in Ewell—within a literal stone's throw of where fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt painted The Light of the World—for up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, over a five-month period in 1851.
“This allowed him to accurately depict the natural scene before him. Millais encountered various difficulties during the painting process. He wrote in a letter to a friend, "The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh. I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay... and am also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water. Certainly the painting of a picture under such circumstances would be greater punishment to a murderer than hanging." By November 1851, the weather had turned windy and snowy. Millais oversaw the building of a hut "made of four hurdles, like a sentry-box, covered outside with straw". According to Millais, sitting inside the hut made him feel like Robinson Crusoe. William Holman Hunt was so impressed by the hut that he had an identical one built for himself.
“Ophelia was modeled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddal, then 19 years old. Millais had Siddal lie fully clothed in a full bathtub in his studio at 7 Gower Street in London. As it was now winter, he placed oil lamps under the tub to warm the water, but was so intent on his work that he allowed them to go out. As a result, Siddal caught a severe cold, and her father later sent Millais a letter demanding £50 for medical expenses. According to Millais' son, he eventually accepted a lower sum.Some have suggested that a detail of verdure on the far shore looks a lot like a death’s head or skull. Millais used other symbols of death in the painting, such as the red poppy, and his friend Holman Hunt used overt skull motifs in his work.
Wikipedia description of the painting by Millais
Original Poll on GurneyJourney
Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques
The Pre-Raphaelites: Colour Library (Phaidon Colour Library)