by Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt
oil on canvas, 1881
47 3/4 in. x 37 1/2 in. (1213 mm x 953 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1980
Sitterback to top
- John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Cardinal, theologian and saint; canonised 2019. Sitter in 37 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896), Painter and President of the Royal Academy; ex-officio Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Artist associated with 41 portraits, Sitter in 76 portraits.
This portraitback to top
A leading figure in the Oxford Movement with John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey, Newman came increasingly to doubt the Anglican position and converted to Catholicism. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1847. Gladstone said of his conversion: 'it has never yet been estimated at anything like the full amount of its calamitous importance'; and it certainly kept Newman in the public eye. He published his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua, in 1864, and was elevated to cardinal in 1879. At the end of the century, Newman, who was painted by Millais in his cardinal's robes, was acknowledged as one of the greatest churchmen and theological thinkers of the age.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Foister, Susan, Cardinal Newman 1801-90, 1990 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 20 May 1990), p. 39 Read entry
Newman first sat to Millais in the summer of 1881, while staying in London at Norfolk House. According to the Life and Letters of Sir J. E. Millais (ed. J. G. Millais, 1889, 2 vols, II, p 386), when Newman came to sit to him, the artist pointed to the model's dais and said 'Oh, your eminence, on that eminence, if you please', and when Newman hesistated, urged him 'come, jump up, you dear old boy'. In a letter of 17 July, Newman wrote that Millais 'was very merciful in the length of time he exacted of me, and he is said to have been very successful'. (Henry Tristram, Newman and his Portraits, unpublished typescript (Birmingham Oratory)). There were seven sittings, each of one hour during which Lady Millais played the violin, which delighted Newman. (Letters of Lord Blachford, p 407; Stephen Coleridge, Remeniscences, p 155, both cited by Henry Tristram, Newman and his Portraits, unpublished typescript (Birmingham Oratory)).
Millais was delighted with the result: as Newman wrote to Maria Giberne on 21 July, 'Mr Millais thinks his portrait the best he has done and the one he wishes to go down to posterity by. Everyone who has seen it, is struck with it. He did it in a few short sittings'. (Henry Tristram, Newman and his Portraits, unpublished typescript (Birmingham Oratory)). Millais's fee was a thousand guineas. (Lettres in Arundel Castle MSS). It appears that the Catholic Union had undertaken the comission with Agnew's who had it engraved by Thomas Barlow; the intention was for the venture to pay for itself and for the portrait then to be offered to the National Portrait Gallery. Owing to the failure of the edition, the portrait was bought by the Duke of Norfolk and came to the National Portrait Gallery only in 1981.
- Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), pp. 159; 173 Read entry
With John Keble and Edward Pusey, Newman led the ‘Oxford Movement’ within the Church of England, a revival of High Church traditions that deeply affected the religious and cultural climate of early Victorian Britain. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was in sympathy with its mood and principles, and Millais’s early religious paintings show its influence. Newman seceded to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 and was ordained in Rome the following year. He was made a Cardinal in 1879. The idea that Millais should paint Newman was suggested by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, who wrote to the Cardinal on 6 April 1881 asking him if he would be willing to sit; the portrait was to be done at the expense of Norfolk and some other friends, and donated to a public gallery in London. Newman agreed in a letter of 8 April.1
On 1 June Newman wrote to Millais consenting to a week of sittings at most, beginning on the 27th of that month.2 In a letter to Gladstone of 1 July he mentioned having one scheduled for the 4th.3 The painter Valentine Prinsep related an anecdote of Millais’s shocking the priests who attended Newman at the first sitting by pointing to the sitter’s chair on its dais and saying, ‘Come, jump up, you dear old boy!’ To this, John Guille Millais added in a footnote: ‘Millais’ actual words were, “O your eminence, on that eminence, if you please.”… and, seeing him hesitating, he said “Come, jump up, you dear old boy!”’4 In further letters of 17 and 21 July, Newman wrote that the sittings were over, and that the artist ‘thinks his portrait the best he has done – and the one he wishes to go down to posterity by’.5
Writing in the Athenaeum, F. G. Stephens hailed the portrait as ‘a masterpiece worthy to be reckoned with the greatest works that the Italians produced when portrait painting occupied the best hours of Titian, Tintoret, Sebastiano, and Bronzino’:
In some respects this splendid study of deep rose red and carnation tints … most nearly resembles a Velazquez. The brilliant illumination, the handling, frank and firm, somewhat free, if not loose, and the general simplicity of the means employed by Mr Millais are Sevillian rather than Venetian.6
In the event, the portrait was bought from Millais by Agnew’s, the art dealers. They paid him £800, which included copyright, and published a reproductive mezzotint in 1884.7 The Duke of Norfolk bought the painting from Agnew’s in 1886 and it remained with his descendants until acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1980, when the original idea of it belonging to a public gallery in London was at last fulfilled.
1 C. S. Dessain and T. Gornall, eds. The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, 1976, vol.XXIX pp 360-61.
2 Millais Papers, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
3 Dessain and Gornall, op. cit., 1976, vol.XXIX, p 389.
4 Millais, Life, vol.II, p 286.
5 Dessain and Gornall, op. cit., 1976, vol.XXIX, pp 395, 398.
6 29 April 1882, p 544.
7 For a photograph showing the work in the studio of the engraver Thomas Oldham Barlow, see Frederic George Stephens, Artists at Home, Photographed by J. P. Mayall, 1884, opp. p 83.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 457
- Simon, Robin, The portrait in Britain and America : with a biographical dictionary of portrait painters, 1680-1914, 1987, p.  plate 9
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1881back to top
Current affairsBenjamin Disraeli dies of bronchitis. He refuses a state funeral and is buried next to his wife, Mary Ann Viscountess Beaconsfield.
Gladstone's Irish Land Act is passed in a bid to stop violence carried out by the republican Land League, conducted in protest at the 1870 Land Act.
Henry Mayers Hyndman forms the Marxist Democratic Federation.
Art and scienceThe Natural History Museum is opened on Exhibition Road, South Kensington. The museum, a landmark gothic design by the architect Alfred Waterhouse, was built to house specimens from the natural sciences, previously in the British Museum's collection. Today, the museum comprises of over 70 million items, and is a world-renowned research centre.
InternationalAlexander II is assassinated in a bomb attack by members of a left-wing revolutionary movement. He was succeeded by his son, Tsar Alexander III.
US President James Garfield is shot by Charles Guiteau.
The first Anglo-Boer war ends. The war is started by a Boer uprising, as the British had annexed the Transvaal in 1877. Following Britain's defeat at the Battle of Majuba Hill, a truce is signed giving the Boers self-government and later independence.
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