Why is it that John Everett Millais painted arguably the most famous picture in the history of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Ophelia (1852, and now in the Tate Britain, London), and yet today, in terms of fame, he is way, way behind Dante Gabriel Rossetti? Because, as you will see below, he did what so many artists did and turned his back on the Muse to sell his soul at the altar of wealth and of respectability.
He came from a Jersey family, but was born in Southamptom. At age 11, he entered the Royal Academy Schools where he stayed for
six years. His remarkable Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, painted when he was only sixteen, was exhibited at the Academy in 1846.
While at the Academy, he met William Holman Hunt
and Dante Gabriel Rossetti
with whom he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848.
In the following year the Pre-Raphaelites were greeted by a hostile reception for their pictures, which included Millais' Christ in the House of his Parents. It was highly controversial because of its realistic portrayal of a working class
Holy Family labouring in a messy carpentry workshop. Further critical attacks followed in the next few years. At this point Ruskin was persuaded to intervene and the worst criticisms of the Pre-Raphaelite work gave way to lukewarm enthusiasm.
In 1852, he completed Ophelia, his best known work today. The model was Elizabeth Siddall, who nearly died from a fever caught while modelling in a freezing water for hours for the painting. Indeed, her father tried
to sue Millais for her getting ill afterwards. The background was painted along the
banks of the Hogsmill river, near Tolworth, South London, at a place
called Six Acre Meadow, alongside Church Road Old Malden. Ophelia was the character from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, singing while floating in a river just before her death by drowning.
Also in 1852 Millais' The Huguenot gained great
success at the Academy, and in 1853
he was elected an A.R.A.. Rossetti
regarded this defection to the establishment
as marking the end of Millais'
association with the Pre-Raphaelites.
Millais' friendship with Ruskin introduced
him to Ruskin's wife Effie. Soon after they met
she modelled for his painting The Order of Release.
As Millais painted Effie they fell in love.
In 1856, after her marriage to Ruskin
was annulled, Effie and John Millais married.
Few Pre-Raphaelite works followed The Huguenot.
The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves
were completed by 1856 and shown at the Academy
in that year. He spent the years between 1857 and 1870, when the first of the popular subject-pictures, The Boyhood of Raleigh was painted,
on literary, historical and genre pictures, more or less. Some of these enjoyed considerable popular success, for example The Black Brunswicker
and the two Sermon pictures.
From 1870 the subject pictures were interspersed with
highly successful society portraits painted
with great fluency and accuracy. They were precisely what the sitters required and expected and, in turn, Millais became wealthy beyond the wildest dreams; but they were a lifetime away from his early artistic promise.
In 1886, the year after he had been created a Baronet, one hundred and fifty-nine of Millais' works were shown at an exhibition
in the Grosvenor Gallery.
In 1896, Millais, who was also a very successful book illustrator, was elected
President of the Royal Academy, but he died later in the same year from throat cancer.
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS
ANNIE MILLER LARGE CANVAS PRINT
AUTUMN LEAVES LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE BOYHOOD OF RALEIGH LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE BRIDESMAID LARGE CANVAS PRINT
CHRIST IN THE HOUSE OF HIS PARENTS LARGE CANVAS PRINT
CYMON AND IPHIGENIA LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE EVE OF ST AGNES LARGE CANVAS PRINT
FERDINAND LURED BY ARIEL LARGE CANVAS PRINT
HEARTS ARE TRUMPS LARGE CANVAS PRINT
JAMES WYATT AND HIS GRANDDAUGHTER MARY LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE KNIGHT ERRANT LARGE CANVAS PRINT
LEISURE HOURS LARGE CANVAS PRINT
LOUISE JOPLING LARGE CANVAS PRINT
MARIANA IN THE MOATED GRANGE LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE MARTYR OF THE SOLWAY LARGE CANVAS PRINT
MILLAIS SELF-PORTRAIT LARGE CANVAS PRINT
MISS EVELEEN TENNANT LARGE CANVAS PRINT
MY FIRST SERMON LARGE CANVAS PRINT
OPHELIA LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE ORDER OF RELEASE LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE PIPER LARGE CANVAS PRINT
PORTRAIT OF LORD ALFRED TENNYSON LARGE CANVAS PRINT
RULING PASSION LARGE CANVAS PRINT
SECOND SERMON LARGE CANVAS PRINT
SIR ISUMBRAS AT THE FORD LARGE CANVAS PRINT
SWEETEST EYES WERE EVER SEEN LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE ROYALIST LARGE CANVAS PRINT
TRIBUTE TO VELAZQUEZ LARGE CANVAS PRINT
TRUST ME LARGE CANVAS PRINT
THE WOODMAN'S DAUGHTER LARGE CANVAS PRINT
//MILLAIS STATUE, TATE, PHOTOS//
John Everett Millais
Portrait of Henry Irving
SIR JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS
//MILLAIS STATUE, TATE, PHOTOS//
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