Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet de Millais of Palace Gate and Saint Ouen, Jersey (Southampton, June 8, 1829 – London, August 13, 1896) was an English painter and illustrator and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
A child prodigy, at age 11 he became the youngest student to enter the English Royal Academy. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in his parents” home in London. Millais became already in his time the most famous exponent of this current, and his painting Christ in his parents” house was received controversially due to the realism in which he portrayed Jesus and his house, commonly portrayed in art in mythical form. In the late 1850s Millais began to abandon the Pre-Raphaelite style. His late works gained great success, making Millais one of the most well-paid artists alive at the time. Despite this, they were seen by most 20th century critics as mistakes. This perspective changed in recent decades, as his late works came to be seen as elements of a larger change that was taking place in the art world.
Millais” private life also played a major role in building his reputation. His wife, Effie Gray, divorced the critic John Ruskin, who encouraged Millais” younger work. Effie”s divorce and her marriage to Millais have sometimes been linked to changes in Millais” style.
Her mother”s “strong personality” was her greatest influence during her youth. She had a strong interest in art and music, and encouraged his artistic desires, and was the main cause for the family”s move to London, which was done to make it easier to establish contacts with the Royal English Academy. Millais later said, “I owe everything I have to my mother.
His prodigious artistic talent earned him a place at the Royal English Academy in 1840 at the age of 11, an age unheard of among academy students. There he met William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with whom he would form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in September 1848 at his family”s home on Gower Street at the end of Bedford Square.
The Pre-Raphaelite style was promoted primarily by the renowned critic John Ruskin, who defended Pre-Raphaelite artists against their critics. Millais” friendship with Ruskin provided the opportunity for him to be introduced to Ruskin”s wife, Effie. Shortly after they met, Effie posed for Musil”s painting Eviction Order (1852). While Millais was painting Effie the two fell in love. Despite having been Ruskin”s wife for years, Effie was still a virgin. Her parents realized that something strange was happening and she filed for divorce – which was made easier by the non-consummation of the marriage.
In 1855, after Effie”s marriage to Ruskin was annulled, she and Millais married. The two eventually had eight children together: Everett, born in 1856; George, 1857; Effie, 1858; Mary, 1860; Alice, 1862; Geoffroy, 1863; John, 1865; and Sophie, 1868. Their youngest son, John Guille Millais, would go on to become a well-known naturalist and wildlife painter.Effie”s younger sister, Sophy Gray, posed for several of Millais”s paintings, which eventually led to some speculation about the nature of this relationship-which was never proven.
Academic careerMillais was elected an associate member of the Royal English Academy in 1853, and soon after was elected a full member of the Academy, in which he was a very prominent and active participant. He received a baronet, of Palace Gate, in the parish of St Mary Abbot, Kensington, in the county of Middlesex, and of Saint Quen, on the island of Jersey, in 1885, becoming the first artist to receive a hereditary title.
After Frederic Leighton”s death, Millais was elected president of the Royal Academy, but died shortly thereafter, the same year, of throat cancer. He was buried in St. Paul”s Cathedral in London.
The painting Christ in his parents” home (1850) caused much controversy when it was exhibited, as it showed a realistic depiction of the holy family working in a messy carpentry workshop. It generated so much controversy that Queen Victoria ordered it to be taken out of the exhibition so that she, at Buckingham Palace, could decide the future of the work. Other paintings exhibited later were also cause for controversy, albeit minor. Millais won success among the public with the painting Huguenot lovers on St. Bartholomew”s Day (1952), which shows a young couple about to separate because of religious conflicts. This issue was portrayed in many late works. All of these youthful works were painted with great whimsy in the small details, often focusing on the beauty and complexity of nature. In paintings such as Ophelia (1851-1852), Millais created dense and elaborate picturesque landscapes based on the integration of naturalistic elements. This approach has been described as a “pictorial ecosystem”. The painting Mariana was painted by Millais in 1851 based on the play Measure for Measure (1604) by William Shakespeare, who also inspired with Hamlet (1603) Millais in the quador Ophelia. In the play, Mariana was almost married when she loses her dowry in a shipwreck and ends up being rejected for marriage.
After his marriage, Millais began to paint in a more encompassing style, which was condemned by Ruskin as “a catastrophe.” It has been argued in academia that this change in style was a result of Millais” need to increase his family”s ever-increasing income. Unrelenting critics such as the painter William Morris accused him of “selling out” in order to gain popularity and wealth. His admirers, on the contrary, saw in this move of his something of the techniques of James McNeill Whistler and Albert Moore, and influence of John Singer Sargent. Millais said that as he became more confident as an artist, he could dare more in his paintings. In his article Thoughts on our art of Today (1888), he recommended the Spanish painters Diego Velázquez and the Dutch Rembrandt as role models. In paintings such as On the Eve of St. Agnes (1863) and The Sleepwalker (1871), Millais clearly shows an ongoing dialogue between himself and Whistler, whose work Millais liked very much. Other paintings from the late 1850s and 1860s can be interpreted as anticipatory aspects of aestheticism. Many harmonic blocks of color came to be used in a symbolistic, rather than narrative way.
The late works from the 1870s onward show Millais” respect for old masters such as Joshua Reynolds and Velazquez. Many of these paintings had historical subjects and were further examples, in addition to his young work, of Millais” talent. His most notable paintings from this period are The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower (1878) depicting the Princes of the Tower, The Northwest Passage (1874) and The Youth of Raleigh (1871). These paintings show the interest Millais had in matters related to the history and expansion of the British Empire. Millais also achieved great popularity with his paintings of children, notably Bubbles (1886) – used in an advertisement for a popular soap, Pears soap – and Cherry ripe. His last work (1896) was to be a painting called The Last Journey. Based on the illustration in his son”s book, it was supposed to show a white hunter lying dead in an African steppe, his body being watched by two Africans.
Millais” fascination with wild and abandoned scenery is also clear in many of his landscape paintings from this period, which often depict difficult or dangerous terrain. The first such painting is Cold October (1870), painted near the Scottish city of Perth, near his wife”s home. Cold October (now in the private collection of composer Mr Andrew Lloyd Webber), was the first picture of Scottish landscapes that Millais painted periodically during the last years of his career. Usually with an autumnal and realistically desolate atmosphere, these paintings evoke a sad temperament and a sense of transience that harkens back to his paintings of the late 1850s, most notably Autumn Leaves (1856) (in the Manchester Art Gallery) and The Valley of Rest (in the Tate museum), although they have little symbolism or human movement to highlight their significance. In 1870 Milla returned to painting full landscape pictures, and for the next twenty years he painted various scenes of the Scottish county of Perthshire, where he stayed every year from August until late autumn hunting and fishing. Most of these landscapes are from the autumn or early winter, and show empty, damp, muddy or swampy water scenes, lakes and rivers. Christmas Eve was his first painting of a complete landscape in snow, painted in 1887 based on Murthly Castle.
Millais was also quite successful as an illustrator, especially of the works of novelist Anthony Trollope and Tennyson”s poems. His detailed illustrations for the parables of Jesus were published in 1864. His father-in-law commissioned stained glass windows based on them for the windows for the Kinnoull parish church in Perth. Millais also illustrated magazines such as Good Words. In 1869 he was hired as a permanent artist for the newly founded weekly newspaper The Graphic. As a young man Millais used to make trips to Keston and Hayes to sketch. While there, he painted a sign for an inn where he used to stay, near the church in Hayes.