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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

1 of 70 portraits of Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by Charles Robert Leslie, 1852 -NPG 1859 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

by Charles Robert Leslie
Oil on mahogany panel, 1852
12 in. x 9 7/8 in. (306 mm x 252 mm)
NPG 1859


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Inscriptionback to top

On back of panel inscr. in white paint: ‘portrait of / J. E. Millais / painted in / 1852’;
incised: ‘by C.R. Leslie RA’;
and artists’ colourman stamp: ‘BROWN / 163 / HIGH HOLBORN’.
Paper label (removed 1936) inscr. in ink: ‘“1854” Leslie’s Life. / “Portrait of John Everett Millais Esq / A.R.A” / “sold at the Painter’s (Leslie’s) Sale – H. Vaughan’.


This portraitback to top

In 1852, when he painted this portrait, Charles Robert Leslie was approaching the end of a successful career. Born in England of American parents he was, in the 1850s, Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy and a prolific exhibitor of literary genre scenes and portraits. [1] In 1851 he had begun work on one of his most ambitious compositions, a scene from Alexander Pope’s poem, The Rape of the Lock. For the figure of the rakish Lord Petre, Leslie chose Millais as his model. This was not a first: Millais’s features can be found in other subject paintings of the early 1840s. [2] Leslie’s Rape of the Lock was exhibited at the RA in 1854 (192), and another version painted in 1856; both versions are at present untraced, although a preparatory sketch at the Tate (N01804) gives an indication of the composition.

NPG 1859 dates to this period also. It is small and delicately painted, Leslie’s fastidious brushwork emphasizing Millais’s freshness. The date 1852 is painted on the back of the panel, although in C.R. Leslie’s biography the portrait of Millais is listed (with the Pope subject painting) as painted in 1854. [3] It is not a preparatory work for the Rape of the Lock: here Millais wears dark modern dress with a prominent tie-pin stuck through his speckled cravat. Leslie’s son G.D. Leslie reported what he knew of the sitting: ‘My father […] painted Sir John on a small panel, just as he was, in a black frock coat, and a black cravat, with a little golden goose for a pin. The portrait was a very good likeness of him at that time, and was sold at the sale of my father’s pictures in 1860. I don’t know who purchased it.’ [4]

The pin, which is also noticeable in two drawings by William Holman Hunt of 1853 (NPG 2914 and priv. coll.), came to have talismanic significance for Millais. He was wearing it on the day he was elected ARA, 7 November 1853, as his brother William relates:

On the day when the result of the election of Associates at the Royal Academy of Arts was to be made known, my brother [J.E. Millais], self [William Millais], Wilkie and Charlie Collins all started off to spend a whole day in the country to alleviate our excitement. Hendon was the chosen locality. My brother wore a large gold goose scarf-pin. He had designed a goose for himself and a wild duck for me, which were made by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell – exquisite works of Art. We had spent a very jolly day, the principal topic of conversation being the coming election, Wilkie Collins being confident that Jack’s usual luck would attend him and that he would certainly be returned an Associate of the Royal Academy.

We had been walking along a narrow, sandy lane, and, meeting a large three-horse waggon, had stepped aside to let it pass, when we resumed our way, and shortly afterwards Jack’s pin was gone! ‘Now Wilkie,’ said my brother, ‘how about my luck? This is an ominous sign that I shall not get in.’ ‘Wait a bit, let’s go back’ said Wilkie. We were all quite sure that he had it on on leaving Hendon. Now, the fact of a huge waggon having gone over the ground we had travelled by gave us very little hope of seeing the golden goose again. A stipulated distance was agreed upon, and back we all trudged, scanning the ground minutely. I undertook the pacing. The waggon had ploughed deep furrows in the sand, and just as we had reached the end of our tether, Jack screamed out, ‘There it is, by Jove!’ And, in truth, the great gold goose was standing perched on a ridge of sand, glistening like the Koh-i-noor itself. We went straight to the Royal Academy, and Charles Landseer, coming out, greeted my brother with, ‘Well Millais, you are in this time in earnest’. [5]

The portrait of Millais was acquired by the important collector Henry Vaughan (1809–99) at the Leslie sale, Foster’s, 25–28 April 1860. [6] (Vaughan also owned the sketch for the Rape of the Lock, Tate, N01804). In a 1901 article on bequests to the National Gallery of British Art [Tate], the Magazine of Art picked out this portrait in the Vaughan Bequest: ‘The most interesting of the Leslies is the portrait of Millais.’ [7]

Although it is the only extant oil portrait of Millais of the 1850s and as such, a valuable record of the painter during his Pre-Raphaelite phase, NPG 1859 never became a defining image, in contrast to the drawing by Holman Hunt, NPG 2914. (For the most memorable portraits of Millais in this period, see ‘All know portraits, Photographs’.)

The painting was sent by the Tate to the National Portrait Gallery in April 1920 as a long-term loan. In February 1957, a group of twenty-four British portraits on loan from the Tate, among them Leslie’s portrait of Millais, was formally transferred to the NPG. [8]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) For C.R. Leslie see ODNB and Ormond 1973, pp.267–8.
2) See ‘All known portraits’; and also Millais 1899, vol.1, p.164. Robert Petre, Baron Petre (d.1713), was ‘reputedly one of the handsomest young noblemen in London’ (ODNB).
3) Taylor 1860, p.324.
4) Millais 1899, vol.1, p.164.
5) Millais 1899, vol.1, pp.216–17. See also NPG 2914 and Rosenfeld & Smith 2007, cat.35, for further details on the pin.
6) Lugt 1953, no.25513.
7) MA, 1901, p.512 (repr. p.514).
8) See NPG Annual Report 1920–21, p.4; and NPG Annual Report 1956–7, p.5.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length, head turned slightly to right, auburn hair, fresh complexion, clean-shaven, wearing black jacket, dark-brown background.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1923; 1987.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; acquired by Henry Vaughan at C.R. Leslie’s sale, 1860; Vaughan Bequest, National Gallery (acc. no.1803); ownership transferred from NG to the Tate, 1955; loaned by Tate to NPG, 1920; ownership transferred from Tate to NPG, February 1957.

Exhibitionsback to top

Faces as Art, NPG, London, 1976 (no printed cat.)

Reproductionsback to top

Magazine of Art, 1901, p.514.

Hutchinson 1920, p.224.

Funnell & Warner 1999, p.42.

Cigarette card with facsimile signature, no date (coll. New York PL, Digital Gallery ID 1204224).

View all known portraits for Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt