Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/John Everett Millais

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JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.


The English school of painters in oil, at the present day, may boast of some branches of the art in which it is not at all behind the French, Flemings, and Belgians. Nay, more, there is at least one living English painter who is unrivalled. It is true that making likenesses of dogs and pictures of deer are not to be counted as among the giddy walks of high art. Better, however, jump at a ditch and clear it than at a river and splash into the middle.

Now, in talking of British art to a foreigner, the question he asks at the Academy exhibitions of every year is, Where is your high art, where is the grand in your art? Well, it must be confessed that the grand is generally nowhere in English picture galleries, unless it happens to have been imported. Portraits, animals, fruit, and small landscape are as flourishing, and certainly as good, at Burlington House as at Paris or Brussels; but the Englishman must admit, with a sigh, that he has no grand art to show among the canvases that represent the year's labours of the exponents of British art. The majority of our painters go on, year after year, painting the same old hackneyed subjects, the same familiar portraits, the same bits of landscape. They are so generally successful because they are careful never to put themselves into the way of failure. They clear the ditch, and are satisfied. Should they essay the river? Should they try to rise above silk and satin in metallic folds, above pretty bits of landscape and portraits, whose mission of usefulness is to boil the family pot? Should they try to rise above themselves, above the dead-level of domestic prettinesses in their compositions, and strive to be, some of them, worthy successors of Sir Joshua, and Turner, and the few other great men who have kept the British School above contempt?

The foreign artists have answered the same question abroad by setting an example—they have a grand school, and they ask for it here.

But while so few of our painters become great enough to earn a
John Everett Millais.jpg

NATURE BEFORE ART.

European fame, how many shine with a lustre above mediocrity! One of the most promising and original young painters of the English school five-and-twenty years ago was the subject of this notice.

John Everett Millais was born at Southampton in 1829. In his ninth year he entered a drawing academy, and at eleven became a student at the Royal Academy. His first exhibited picture was at the Academy in 1846—'Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru,' an ambitious subject for a young man of eighteen. During his Academy course, Millais had conceived a distaste for their system of instruction; and with his friends—W. Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti— he set off to look in nature for the effects the old masters had embodied in their pictures. The result of this appeal from art to nature was the foundation of the pre-Raphaelite school. Mr. Millais's principal pictures, executed while pre-Raphaelite influences were fresh upon him, were, in 1850, 'Our Saviour,' and 'Ferdinand lured by Ariel;' 1851, 'Mariana in the Moated Grange,' and 'The Woodman's Daughter;' and in 1852, 'The Huguenot,' and 'Ophelia.' At this time Mr. Ruskin came forward, and defended the pre-Raphaelites with all the power of his eloquence and learning; and Millais was the founder of a little school, written up in 'The Times,' and in his works on art by the greatest art-critic of the age. In 1853 Mr. Millais was elected an Associate of the Academy, and became R.A. in December 1863.

There is not now very much left in his works of the pre-Raphaelite fever of twenty years ago; but his pictures are always artistic and original in composition, and highly skilful in execution. Mr. Millais stands at the head of original thinkers among the R.A.s. He went from art to nature, and he has got a rich reward for his pains.