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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

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

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by William Holman Hunt, 1853 -NPG 2914 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

by William Holman Hunt
Black, red and blue chalks with traces of pencil on blue-grey Ingres-type paper laid on cardboard, 1853
13 1/8 in. x 9 3/4 in. (332 mm x 248 mm)
NPG 2914


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Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in black chalk at bottom: ‘W. holman hunt to / his PRBrother Tom Woolner April 12th. 1853.’
On old backboard, labels and inscriptions:
(a) numbers and letters (tracings taken in 1938): ‘502C’ and ‘307GL’.
(b) printed label: ‘Corporation of Liverpool / Walker Art Gallery / Holman Hunt Exhibition, 1907. No. 121’.
(c) handwritten label: ‘No.13 / Early Portrait of Millais. / by W. Holman Hunt. / Lent by Harry Quilter / 21 Bryanston Square London. W.’ [name crossed out and superinscribed] ‘Sydney Morse / 14 Airlie Gardens / Kensington W’.

This portraitback to top

At a time when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were a close-knit group, during the late 1840s and early 1850s, Millais and William Holman Hunt were especially close. They had first met in 1843, sketching in the Sculpture Galleries of the British Museum. [1] Millais was then fourteen, two years younger than Hunt, but further advanced and already in receipt of a Royal Academy Schools medal. Holman Hunt was dazzled by his precocity, envious of his supportive family and grateful for his friendly, positive encouragement. In spite of their differences they shared an intensity of purpose and the friendship deepened. Hunt entered the RA Schools in 1844, and he was travelling and painting in Egypt and the Middle East between 1854 and early 1856.

The PRB began to disperse in the early 1850s, starting with Thomas Woolner’s departure for Australia in July 1852. It was Rossetti’s idea to prepare a sort of composite PRB memento to send to Woolner. ‘Last night at my party,’ he wrote to him, ‘it was agreed that all your intimates here should meet at a certain day and hour […] for some act of communication, the nature of which was left for me to decide. I therefore fix that on the 12th of April (which will keep us clear of the Exhibition burners) at 12 o’clock in the day, we shall each of us, wheresoever we be, make a sketch of some kind (mutual portraits preferable) – or for any who do not draw, some verses or a letter – and immediately exchange them by post, between London and Melbourne.’[2]

In his memoirs Holman Hunt recalled the hectic round of sittings that took place at 83 Gower Street on 12 April 1853. ‘We therefore all met one morning at Millais’ studio, and set to work to complete a collection of our portraits, in pencil, chalk, or pastel. Millais did William Rossetti and Stephens. William did, if I am not mistaken, make a beginning with some one, but gave up his purpose to save the time for others. Stephens abstained from any attempt. Gabriel chose me for his subject, and I managed to get Millais and Rossetti done, although the slowness of Gabriel, with his appeals for special posings, gave the dusk the opportunity of overtaking us before I had quite finished Millais. […] the drawings all went as they were left that evening, and they were framed together to hang in Woolner’s studio at Melbourne, and afterwards in London.’ [3]

In the letter accompanying the drawings destined for Australia, Rossetti provides useful technical information, indicating that the drawing medium for the portrait of Millais (and of the portrait of Rossetti; Manchester AG) was chalks.

This letter is accompanied by, or rather accompanies, the sketches made by the PRBs now in London, on the 12th, according to the appointment which I made in my last letter to you […] Your letter was read aloud on Tuesday morning (the day the sketches were made & the day after I got it) at breakfast at Millais’s, where we met to draw and afterwards spent the evening together here […] Are not Hunt’s sketches wonderful? They are made with ‘Swiss chalks’, not Creta Levis. The ‘Swiss’ are softer than the Creta, but I think much more beautiful in colour. [4]

Others left accounts of the day, including F.G. Stephens, who in hindsight recognized the significance of the event.

Millais fell to me to be drawn, and to him I fell as his subject. [5] Unhappily for me, I was so ill at that time that it was with the greatest difficulty I could drag myself to Gower Street […] I was utterly unable to continue the sketch I began. I gave it up, and Mr. Holman Hunt, who had had D.G. Rossetti for his vis à vis and sitter, took my place and drew Millais’s head. […] This meeting was one of the latest ‘functions’ of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in its original state. Collinson had seceded, and Woolner emigrated to the ‘diggings’ in search of the gold he did not find. Up to that time the old affectionate conditions still existed among the Brothers, but their end was near. Millais was shooting on ahead; Mr. Holman Hunt was surely, though slowly, following his path towards fortune; D.G. Rossetti had retired within himself, and made no sign before the world; W.M. Rossetti was rising in Her Majesty’s service; and I was being continuedly drawn towards that literary work which brought me bread. [6]

In December 1853, just before leaving for Egypt, Holman Hunt did another head-and-shoulders drawing of Millais, this time in pencil and more stylized (priv. coll.). [7] For the goose tie-pin in both drawings, see NPG 1859.

The provenance of NPG 2914 is documented throughout. In the early twentieth century it was owned by the solicitor and collector Sydney Morse (1854–1929) and remained in the family until the death of his wife Juliet Morse. At her sale, Christie’s, 19 March 1937, it was bought by Leopold George Esmond Morse (their son) via Agnew’s, for £44.2s, for presentation to the National Portrait Gallery in memory of his father. [8]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) ‘the boy Millais… darting about… in a black velvet tunic, a belt, and shining bright brown hair curling over a white turned-down collar’; Hunt 1905, vol.1, p.36.
2) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to T. Woolner, 1 Jan. 1853; Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, 2002, letter 53:1, p.224. See also the Holman Hunt catalogue raisonné, Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, D70 and D71.
3) Hunt 1905, vol.1, p.341.
4) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to T. Woolner, 16 Apr. 1853; Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, letter 53:23, pp.242–2.
5) For the portrait of F.G. Stephens by Millais, see NPG 2363.
6) Millais 1899, vol.1, pp.81–2. For a full account of the PRB meeting see Ormond 1967.
7) See Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, D76.
8) Letter from E. Morse, Claughton Hall, Hornby, Lancaster, to H.M. Hake, 31 Mar. 1937: ‘I have much pleasure in confirming the offer which I made when in London last week through Mr Agnew to present to the National Portrait Gallery the portrait of Sir J. Millais, P.R.A. by W. Holman Hunt, O.M. Lot 119 in the sale of my father’s pictures at Christie’s on March 19th. So that this gift may be associated with my father’s name I would like to have an inscription on the mount or frame: “Presented in memory of Sydney Morse by his son L.G. Esmond Morse.”’ Sydney Morse was collecting in the late nineteenth century and had important works by Blake, Whistler and PRBs. The drawing is presently stored in a modern frame. Holman Hunt did a drawing of Sydney Morse, c.1897–8; see Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, D427.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, three-quarters to right, auburn hair, clean-shaven, reddish coat, blue cravat.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1979.

Provenanceback to top

Given by W.H. Hunt to T. Woolner 1853; his gift to F.W. Cosens; Christie’s, 17 May 1890 (11); C.F. Murray; H. Quilter 1892 and 1907; Sydney Morse; Christie’s, 19 March 1937 (119), bought by Agnew’s on behalf of L.G. Esmond Morse, for presentation to the National Portrait Gallery, in memory of his father Sydney Morse, April 1937.

Exhibitionsback to top

Collective Exhibition of the Art of W. Holman Hunt, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1907 (86).

William Holman Hunt: An Exhibition arranged by the Walker Art Gallery, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1969 (127, ill.)

Ruskin and his Circle, Arts Council Gallery, London 1964 (234).

Präraffaeliten, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, 1973–4 (34).

‘The Last of England’: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1976 (no catalogue).

The Pre-Raphaelites, Tate Gallery, London, 1984 (183).

Anthony Trollope, British Library, London, 1993 (no catalogue).

Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, London and seven other venues, 1993–4.

Christina Rossetti, NPG, London, 1994 (no catalogue).

The Pre-Raphaelites, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2009 (2).

The Poetry of Drawing, Birmingham MAG and AG of New S Wales, Sydney, 2011 (86)

Reproductionsback to top

Parris 1984, no.183.

Rogers 1993, no.61.

Funnell & Warner 1999, p.80.

Mancoff 2001, pl.XVIII (no page number).

Gregory 2006, pl.4.

Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, D70, p.44.

Ahlund 2009, no.2.

Cruise 2011, p.102, fig.126.

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