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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by Herbert Watkins, 1857 -NPG P301(36) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

by Herbert Watkins
Albumen print, 1857
7 3/8 in. x 5 1/2 in. (188 mm x 141 mm) oval
NPG P301(36)

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in pencil on album page below image, lower right: ‘J.E. Millais A.R.A.’

This portraitback to top

NPG P301(36) forms part of the album entitled ‘Photographs by Herbert Watkins’, a collection of 242 photographs by the London photographer (George) Herbert Watkins. Other subjects include public figures (184 portraits), works of art and outdoor views. The profile of Millais is mounted on page 36, opposite one of Effie Millais (NPG P301(37)). Both are oval-shaped albumen prints. Watkins worked from various addresses in Regent’s Street, London, from the 1850s to the 1870s, and – judging by the costumes – the photographs in the album range from the late 1850s to the early 1860s.

It is in fact possible to identify more narrowly the date of the Millais sitting thanks to another album of photographs by Watkins at the National Portrait Gallery. [1] Album 39 covers the history of a failed project, ‘Herbert Fry’s National Gallery of Photographic Portraits’. [2] It contains Fry’s draft biographies of the subjects, correspondence regarding the sittings with Watkins, and also letters of refusal from other invited personalities. In 1857 sixteen prints were issued individually, by subscription at 4 shillings each, before the project apparently folded. Millais’s photograph was taken but not issued as part of the series. Fortunately a Watkins print (NPG Ax7919, a copy of NPG P301[36]) and some of the correspondence were pasted into this album, and so we discover that Millais planned to sit to the photographer in April 1857: ‘I shall be very happy to sit for a photograph when I am next in Town which will be in April.’ [3]

A year later, as Watkins and Fry were arguing over ownership of the photographs, Millais wrote from Scotland to Fry: ‘I now remember you addressing me on the subject of sitting for a photograph, but when I sat to Mr Watkins I must confess my promise to you had quite escaped my memory. However I shall be very happy to hear that those portraits will suit you for your purpose. The profile is much the best of the two, and considered by all an admirable likeness. If you show this letter to Mr Watkins I am sure he will have no objection to your having one.’ Later that day he wrote a second letter to Fry, this time clearly siding with the photographer: ‘I have, since writing this morning, received a letter from Mr Watkins in which he states that a misunderstanding has arisen between you, on the subject of other photographs. The portrait is undoubtedly Mr Watkins’s property, and as he doesn’t feel willing to let you have it, it is not in my power at present to oblige you.’[4]

There are three copies of the profile pose at the Gallery: NPG P301(36), NPG Ax7919 (mounted on a card page in Album 39, with blind-stamp ‘Untouched Photograph / Herbert Watkins / 179 Regent Street’), and NPG x6275 (inscribed on a label on verso of card ‘To Edward Dalziel from the subject John Everett Millais / 7 April 1858’). There are some pencil retouchings on NPG P301(36): the line of the raised collar has been strengthened and some fading at the bottom of the photograph has been shaded in. For further copies of the profile see The Rob Dickins Collection, Watts Gallery, Compton (COMWG2008.179); and the Millais Collection. The photograph was engraved by Ebenezer Landells. [5] A second, full-face pose is only known from a reproduction in Millais’s 1899 biography (vol.2, p.219).

According to William Holman Hunt, Millais wore his hair long until the mid-1840s, when he cut it and ‘appeared then and thenceforth with what he called a cockatoo crop’. [6]

The Watkins album was sent by Mr Phillip Walker to Christie’s, 27 June 1985 (169) but it failed to reach the reserve price of £2,000–3,000. Mr Walker then offered it to the NPG and it was purchased for £1,024. Giving what little he knew of the provenance he wrote: ‘I am afraid the album had been through other, antique trade, hands before I acquired it so my information about it is indirect. I was told that it had lain, with many other papers, on the floor of the scullery of a Norfolk farm house – hence its very damp condition. The papers were said to have belonged to a Mr Raghan, who had died in his 80s, and who had been in the theatrical world in some capacity.’ [7] The album remains in a very fragile condition.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Album 39, ‘Portraits and Autographs’, NPG Photographic Collection.
2) Herbert Fry (1830–85), compiler of guidebooks and other reference works.
3) Letter from J.E. Millais to H. Fry, 29 Jan. 1857, NPG Album 39, p.197.
4) Letters from J.E. Millais to H. Fry, 1 June 1858, NPG Album 39, pp.199 and 197.
5) Wood-engr. by Landells after Watkins, inscr. ‘WL’ and ‘ELandells’, with sitter’s facsimile autograph, for unidentified publication; three copies NPG SB (Millais), one inscr. in ink ‘3 July 1858’.
6) Hunt 1905, vol.1, p.57.
7) Letter from P. Walker to K.K. Yung, 26 Sept. 1985, NPG RP P301.

Physical descriptionback to top

Bust-length, profile to right, raised white collar, silk tie knotted in a bow.

Provenanceback to top

Christie’s, 27 June 1985 (169) [bought in]; purchased from Philip Walker, September 1985.

Reproductionsback to top

Reproductions of other copies of this image
Millais 1899, vol.2, p.218 (where dated 1854).

Millais 1979, p.9.

Maas 1984, p.107, no.202.

Bills & Webb 2007, p.57, no.83.

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



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