1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Millais, Sir John Everett

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MILLAIS, SIR JOHN EVERETT (1829–1896), English painter, was born at Southampton on the 8th of June 1829, the son of John William Millais, who belonged to an old Norman family settled in Jersey for many generations, and Emily Mary, née Evamy, the widow of a Mr Hodgkinson. After his birth the family returned to Jersey, where the boy soon began to sketch. At the age of eight he drew his maternal grandfather. He went to school for a short time, but showed no inclination for study, and was afterwards educated entirely by his mother. In 1835 the family removed to Dinan in Brittany, where he sketched the French officers, to their great amusement, and in 1837, on the family’s return to Jersey, he was taught drawing by a Mr Bissel. In 1838 he came to London, and on the strong recommendation of Sir Martin Archer Shee, P.R.A., his future was decided. He was sent at once to Sass’s school, and entered the Academy schools in 1840. He won a silver medal from the Society of Arts in 1839, and carried off all the prizes at the Royal Academy. He was popular amongst the students, and was called “the child,” because he wore his boyish costume till long after the usual age. In 1840 and the immediately succeeding years he made the acquaintance of Wordsworth and other interesting and useful people. He was at this time painting small pictures, &c., for a dealer named Thomas, and defraying a great part of the household expenses in Gower Street, where his family lived. In 1846 he exhibited “Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru” at the Royal Academy, and in 1847 “Elgiva seized by the Soldiers of Ode.” In the latter year he competed unsuccessfully at the exhibition of designs for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament, sending a very large picture of “The Widow’s Mite,” which was afterwards cut up. In the beginning of 1848 he and W. Holman Hunt, dissatisfied with the theory and practice of British art, which had sunk to its lowest and most conventional level, initiated what is known as the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and were joined by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and afterwards by five others, altogether forming the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti was then engaged, under the technical guidance of Hunt, upon his picture of “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin,” which, with Hunt's “Light of the World” and Millais’s “Christ in the House of His Parents,” forms what has been called the trilogy of Pre-Raphaelite art. According to Millais, the Pre-Raphaelites had but one idea “to present on canvas what they saw in Nature.” Millais's first picture on his new principles was a banquet scene from Keats's “Isabella” (1849), and contains all the characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite work, including minute imitation of nature down to the smallest detail, and the study of all persons and objects directly from the originals. The tale was told with dramatic force, and the expression of the heads was excellent. His next important picture, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” or “The Carpenter’s Shop” (1850), represented a supposed incident in the childhood of our Lord treated in a simply realistic manner, and drew down upon him a storm of abuse from nearly all quarters, religious and artistic. The rest of his more strictly Pre-Raphaelite pictures—“The Return of the Dove to the Ark,” “The Woodman's Daughter” and the “Mariana” of 1851, “The Huguenot” and “Ophelia” of 1852, “The Proscribed Royalist” and “The Order of Release” of 1853—met with less opposition, and established his reputation with the public. Indeed, this may be said to have been accomplished by the “Huguenot” and “Ophelia,” the refined sentiment and exquisite execution of which appealed to nearly all who were unprejudiced. The public were also greatly influenced by the splendid championship of Ruskin, who, in letters to The Times, and in a pamphlet called “Pre-Raphaelitism,” enthusiastically espoused the cause of the Brotherhood. In 1851 Millais, who had refused to read Modern Painters, where the supposed principles of the Brotherhood were first recommended, became acquainted with Ruskin, and in 1853 went to Scotland with him and Mrs Ruskin, the latter of whom sat for the woman in “The Order of Release.” He made several designs for Ruskin, and painted his portrait. In 1855 Millais exhibited “The Rescue,” a scene from a fire, which drew great attention, from the frantic expression of the mother and the brilliant painting of the glare. In the Paris Exhibition of this year he was represented by “The Order of Release,” “Ophelia” and “The Return of the Dove.” This was also the year of his marriage with Mrs Ruskin (Euphemia Chalmers, daughter of Mr George Gray of Bowerswell, Perth), who had obtained a decree of the nullity of her previous marriage. The newly-wedded couple went to live at Annat Lodge, near Bowerswell, where “Autumn Leaves,” described by Ruskin as “the first instance of a perfect twilight,” was painted. This and “Peace Concluded” were singled out for special praise by Ruskin in his notes on the Academy Exhibition of 1856, which contained, with other Works by Millais, the picture of “A Blind Girl,” with a beautiful background of Icklesham and its common. The principal pictures of 1857 were “Sir Isumbras at the Ford,” and “The Escape of a Heretic,” both of which were violently attacked by Ruskin, who was kinder to the “Apple-blossoms” and “Vale of Rest” of 1859, extolling the power of their painting, but still insisting on the degeneracy of the artist. The “Black Brunswicker” of 1860 was in motive very like the “Huguenot,” but it was less refined in expression, and a great deal broader in execution, and may be said to mark the end of the period of transition. from his minute Pre-Raphaelite manner to the masterly freedom of his mature style. From 1860 to 1869 the invention of Millais was much employed in illustration, especially of Trollope’s novels, beginning with Framley Parsonage in the Cornhill Magazine. He made altogether eighty-seven drawings for Trollope, and was the cleverest and one of the most prolific of the book illustrators of the ’sixties. He contributed to Moxon’s illustrated edition of Tennyson’s Poems, and made occasional drawings for Once a Week, the Illustrated London News, Good Words, and other periodicals and books. In 1863 he was elected a Royal Academician. The most important pictures of this and the next few years were “The Eve of St Agnes,” remarkable for the painting of moonlight, “Romans leaving Britain” (1865), “Jephthah” (1867), “Rosalind and Celia” (1868), “A Flood,” and “The Boyhood of Raleigh” (1870). All these were executed in a very broad and masterly manner. In many of his pictures of this period, such as “The Boyhood of Raleigh,” his children were his models, and formed the subject of many more, like “My First Sermon,” “My Second Sermon,” “Sleeping,” “Awake,” “Sisters,” “The First Minuet,” and “The Wolf’s Den.” He now painted many single hgures with more or less sentiment, like “Stella,” “Vanessa,” and “The Gambler’s Wife,” with occasionally a more important composition, like “Pilgrims to St Paul’s,” and “Victory, O Lord” (exhibited 1871), representing Aaron and Hur holding up Moses' hands (Exod. xvii. 12). With it was exhibited the first and most popular of his pure landscapes, called “Chill October,” which was followed at intervals by several others remarkable for literal truth to nature and line execution. They were all from Perthshire, where he generally spent the autumn, and included “Scotch Firs” and “Winter Fuel” (painted in 1874), “Over the Hills and Far away,” and “The Fringe of the Moor” (1875) and “The Sound of Many Waters” (1876). A later series was painted in the neighbourhood of Murthly, a village in the parish of Little Dunkeld, Perthshire, where he rented a house and shooting from 1881 to 1891. It was to painting nature and the world around him that he principally devoted himself for the last twenty-five years of his life, abandoning imaginative or didactic themes. To this period belong a number of pictures of children, with fancy titles, like “Cherry Ripe,” “Little Miss Muffet,” “Bubbles,” and others well known by reproductions in black and white and in colour for the illustrated papers; and also some charming studies of girlhood, like “Sweetest eyes were ever seen,” and “Cinderella.” Amongst his more serious pictures were “The Princes in the Tower” (1878), “The Princess Elizabeth” (1879), two pictures from Scott—“Effie Deans” and “The Master of Ravenswood”—painted for Messrs Agnew in 1877 and 1878, and “The North-West Passage,” sometimes regarded as his masterpiece, representing an old mariner (painted from Edward John Trelawney, the friend of Byron) listening to some tale of Arctic exploration in a room overlooking the sea and strewn with charts. “A Yeoman of the Guard” (1877) was perhaps his most splendid piece of colour, and was greatly admired at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, where it was sent with “Chill October” and three others of his pictures. But perhaps the works of his later years by which he will be most remembered are his portraits—especially his three portraits of Gladstone (1879, 1885 and 1890), and those of John Bright, of Lord Tennyson, and of Lord Beaconsfield, which was left unfinished at his death. He also painted the marquess of Salisbury, Lord Rosebery, the dukes of Devonshire and Argyll, Cardinal Newman, Thomas Carlyle, Sir James Paget, Sir Henry Irving, George Grote, Lord Chief Justice Russell, J. C. Hook, R.A., and himself (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). He drew Charles Dickens after his death. Amongst his finer portraits of women were those of Mrs Bischoffsheim, the duchess of Westminster, Lady Campbell and Mrs Jopling.

No very serious interruption of his usual life as a prosperous English gentleman occurred in these years, except the death of his second son, George, in 1878. In 1875 he went to Holland, one of his few visits to the Continent. In 1879 he left Cromwell Place for a house at Palace Gate, Kensington, which he built, and where he died. In 1885 he was created a baronet, on the suggestion of Mr Gladstone. In 1892 his health began to break down. After a bad attack of influenza he was troubled with a swelling in his throat, which proved to be due to cancer. He suffered much from depression, but worked when he could, and derived much pleasure in painting several pictures, including “St Stephen,” “A Disciple,” “Speak ! Speak !” (which was bought out of the Chantrey Bequest), and “The Forerunner”—his last exhibited subject-picture. His finely-characterized portraits of Mr John Hare, the actor, and Sir Richard Quain belong also to his last years. In 1895, in consequence of the illness of Lord (then Sir Frederick) Leighton, he was called upon to preside at the annual banquet of the Royal Academy, and on the death of Lord Leighton he was elected to the presidential chair. He died on the 13th of August 1896, and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Winter Exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1898 was devoted to his works. The list of his honours at home and abroad is a long one. Millais was one of the greatest painters of his time, and did more than any other to infuse a new and healthy life into British art. He had not the imagination of an idealist, but he could paint what he saw with a force which has seldom been excelled. As a man he was manly, frank and genial, devoted to his art and his family, and very fond of sport, especially hunting, fishing and shooting. He was greatly loved by a very large circle of friends. He was singularly handsome, and had a fine presence. The National Gallery of British Art possesses many of his inest works. He is also represented in the National Gallery, in the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and in the public galleries at Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Authorities.—J. G. Millais, Life and Letters, &c.; Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Notes on Royal Academy Exhibitions, Pre-Raphaelitism, &c.; Catalogues of Grosvenor Gallery (summer of 1886); and of Royal Academy (winter of 1898); M. H. Spielmann, Millais and his Works (London, 1896); A. L. Baldry, Sir J. E. Millais, his Art and Influence (London, 1899).  (C. Mo.)