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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by Theodore Blake Wirgman, 1896 -NPG 1711 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

by Theodore Blake Wirgman
Pencil on buff paper, 1896
13 1/8 in. x 9 3/8 in. (334 mm x 239 mm)
NPG 1711

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. and dated in pencil lower left: ‘John Everett Millais / 13 Feby 96. /’;
signed vertically at right: ‘T.B. Wirgman’.
Printed label (removed to Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive) from back board: ‘Irish International Exhibition 1907 /Fine Art Section / British and Foreign Artists / Title of Work: “Portrait of Sir J.E. Millais Bt. PRA” / Name of Artist: “T. Blake Wirgman” / Name and Address of Lender: “T. Blake Wirgman Esq / 24 Dawson Place / Pembroke Square. W.”’

This portraitback to top

This portrait was taken at a time when Millais was deeply preoccupied by the future of the Royal Academy. The president Lord Leighton had died on 25 January 1896, and Millais was being urged from all sides to succeed him. The election was held on 20 February, a week after this drawing was made and, as expected, Millais was unanimously voted to the post. He accepted out of a sense of duty – ‘The work will be often terribly irksome, but I have thought it over seriously, and I see that the Royal Academy might suffer if I decline’ – but wearily, as he was fighting cancer himself. [1]

None of this is reflected in Wirgman’s brisk pencil sketch. Millais is shown three-quarters to right, robust and resolute. His old friend M.H. Spielmann thought the drawing successful, and that it summed up ‘a type of the English gentleman, […] the beau idéal of John Bull’. [2]

Theodore Blake Wirgman, portrait painter, illustrator and printmaker of Swedish descent, had once worked for Millais. [3] He is best known for the series of chalk portraits he produced for the Graphic between 1884 and 1889. NPG 1711 may be connected with another Wirgman drawing of Millais, a half-length in sporting jacket with crossed arms, that was reproduced in the Daily Chronicle to mark the new RA presidency. [4] And there may have been others: Wirgman exhibited a portrait of Millais, perhaps NPG 1711, with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1896 (180); another head-and-shoulders was exhibited at the Covent Garden Gallery Ltd, London, in 1891. He was a prolific RA exhibitor between 1867 and 1919, and his work is represented at the National Portrait Gallery by seven drawings and five prints.

NPG 1711 was offered as a gift from the artist through the intermediacy of Edmund Gosse, NPG Trustee, in October 1913. [5] Gosse’s term of service never overlapped with Millais’s, whose own time as an NPG trustee was long and notably energetic, from 1882 to his death. For the major Millais portrait of 1896 see the bust by Edward Onslow Ford, NPG 1329.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from J.E. Millais to William Millais , 5 Feb. 1896, Millais 1896, vol.2, p.326.
2) ‘There is, moreover, the chalk drawing executed by Mr. T. Blake Wirgman on the 13th February, 1896 – the last made of Millais before he became ill, and one of the few renderings which have realised the subtle expression of the mouth and have shown him as a type of the English gentleman, as the beau idéal of John Bull.’ ‘Portrait of Millais’ in Spielmann 1898, p.52.
3) Benezit 2006; Houfe 1996, p.353.
4) Engr. by C. Hentschel after drawing by T. Blake Wirgman, Daily Chronicle, 21 Feb. 1896, copy NPG SB (Millais). The drawing is untraced.
5) ‘Mr. Theodore Wirgman has asked me to offer the N.P.G. as a gift a fine drawing for which Sir J.E. Millais sat to him in the last year of his life’; letter from E. Gosse to C. Holmes, 20 Oct. 1913, NPG RP 1711.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders three-quarters to right.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1984.

Provenanceback to top

Given by Theodore Blake Wirgman, 1913.

Exhibitionsback to top

Irish International Exhibition, Ireland [Dublin], 1907.

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

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