Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896), Painter and President of the Royal Academy

Painter; born 8 June 1829, in Southampton. Spent early childhood in Jersey, from where family moved to London in 1838; entered Royal Academy Schools aged eleven (youngest student ever admitted) 1840; friendship with William Holman Hunt from 1844; early meetings of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Millais’s studio in Gower Street 1848; Ophelia (exh. RA 1852); visit to Scotland with the Ruskins 1853; married Effie Ruskin 3 July 1855, spending early married life in Scotland, where Millais developed passion for fieldsports; also active as an illustrator (for Once a Week, Cornhill Magazine, etc.) late 1850s–early 1860s; elected ARA 1853, RA 1863; family lived at 7 Cromwell Place, Kensington 1861–77; painting style moved towards Aestheticism from 1860s, with more portraiture (see examples at NPG) and child subjects (e.g. My First Sermon, exh. RA 1863, and Bubbles, 1886); commissioned monumental house in Palace Gate from Philip Hardwick 1873–6; exhibited mainly at RA but also Grosvenor Gallery from 1877; first retrospective Fine Art Society 1881; created baronet July 1885; elected PRA in succession to Frederic Leighton 20 February 1896; terminally ill, the last three months spent in silence and seclusion, he died at 2 Palace Gate on 13 August 1896, aged sixty-seven and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral next to J.M.W. Turner.

Valentine Prinsep described his appearance in the 1850s:

I first made the acquaintance of John Millais at my father’s house about the year 1854. Tall, thin, and active, his eager, handsome face, his clustering curls of dark hair, and his keen bright eye – his whole presence – betokened a boyish energy which was quite remarkable. […] In the fifties no one could be less like the then received type of an artist than Millais. His clean-shaven lip and chin, and his whiskers worn in the fashion of the day (‘mutton-chop’), contrasted with the beards worn by most artists, while in place of the flowing necktie, open collar, and velveteen coat of the many painters, Millais always appeared in a long frock-coat and high-standing ‘stick-up’. In fact he looked like a successful and fashionable business man. [1]

The art-critic Walter Armstrong on Millais in 1885:

As we enter the studio Sir John Millais turns from an easel which faces us, and as he stands for a moment in the light streaming down from the great window, and peers into the darkness about the door, we receive an impression which we may try to record, for it is characteristic of the man. He has a great palette on his left thumb, and in his left hand a sheaf of brushes; in his right hand he holds the short briar pipe which has just left his lips. His dress is a white linen jacket, for it is a hot morning in July, and his whole attitude denotes that instant of inquiry, which, in an eager, impulsive nature, precedes either a warm welcome or a no less hearty repulse. [2]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Millais 1899, vol.2, p.376–7.
2) Armstrong 1885, p.30.

Referencesback to top

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Carol Blackett-Ord