The Original Pre-Raph

Artist: John Everett Millais
Born: 8 June 1829, Southampton, UK
Nationality: English
Movement: Pre-Raphaelite
Died: 13 August 1896, London, UK

John Everett Millais was a painter, illustrator and a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A child prodigy, he became the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy schools at just eleven years of age. In the 1850’s Millais moved away from the Pre-Raphaelite style developing a new form of realism with in his art which is now seen as prognosticating of the changes that occurred in Modernism to bring us to the art world of today.

Born Southampton in 1829 to a prominent Jersey-based family Millais spent most pf his childhood on the island. His devotion to Jersey remained strong throughout his life. His mother had a keen interest in the arts and was a powerful influence on the artist with her encouragement and even relocating the family to London so Millais could develop contacts within the Royal Academy of Art.

At eleven years of age, Millais’ artistic talent won him a place at the Royal Academy schools. Whilst there he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with artists such as William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

In the 1850’s Millais moved away from the traditional style of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and his painting ‘Christ in the House of his Parents’ (1850) caused widespread controversy due to its realism in his portrayal of the holy family as working-class labourers in a messy carpenter’s workshop.

After his marriage, Millais’ painting style broadened even further causing many admirers to accuse the artist of selling-out on the Pre-Raphaelite movement in favour of achieving popularity and wealth.

From 1870-1892 Millais painted many landscapes depicting harsh, challenging and often dangerous terrains. These painting evoked melancholy and transience reflecting Millais’ cycle-of-nature paintings of the 1850’s. ‘The Vale of Rest’ and its direct symbolism to its meaning is bleak and unpicturesque in its imagery of autumn.

The Millais Window, Kinnoull Parish Church, Perth, Scotland

Millais was also a successful illustrator, notably the poems of Tennyson. His complex illustration of the parables (1864) inspires his own father-in-law to commission stained-glass windows Kinnoull Parish Church, Perth, Scotland.

Millais was created a baronet Palace Gate and Saint Ouen, Jersey, by Queen Victoria becoming the first artist to be honoured with a hereditary title. He died in 1896 and is buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, UK.

Isabella, 1849, John Everett Millais

‘Isabella’ (1849, Oil on canvas) is Millais’ first painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style and was created shortly after the formation of the Brotherhood.

It depicts a scene from the novel ‘Decameron’ by Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 1349). The relationship of Isabella, the sister of wealthy merchant brothers, and Lorenzo, one of their employees, just as the brothers realize there is a romance between the two.
Lorenzo is giving Isabella a blood-orange on a plate, symbolizing the neck of someone who has been beheaded as reference to Isabella cutting of Lorenzo’s head to keep it with her after she finds him buried.

The painting is currently housed at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK

Christ in the House of his Parents, 1850, John Everett Millais

‘Christ in the house of his Parents’ (1850, Oil on canvas) is a painting in which the young Jesus is depicted assisting Joseph in a carpentry workshop and is full of symbolic detail. A cut in Jesus’ hand from a rusty nail symbolizes the stigmata as a foreshadow of the crucifixion. The baptism of Christ by John the Baptist is represented by a young boy bringing water to cleanse the wound. An assistant watching over the proceedings is symbolic of the Apostles.

The painting caused a great deal of controversy when it was first exhibited because of its realistic nature, some even criticizing Jesus being shown as a Jew.

The painting is currently housed at Tate Britain, London, UK

Ophelia, 1851, John Everett Millais

‘Ophelia’ (1851, Oil on canvas) depicts the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet singing before she drowns in a Danish river.

The painting is one of the most important artworks of the 19th century because of its detailed and accurate portrayal of a landscape and its influence on later artists such as Waterhouse, Dali, Blake and Ruscha.

The painting is housed by the Tate Britain, London, UK

Mariana, 1851, John Everett Millais

‘Mariana’ (1851, Oil on mahogany) depicts a character from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Mariana was to be married but her dowry was lost at sea and she was rejected. Her pose suggesting a woman taking a brief respite from sitting at her sewing too long, and the roll of the embroidery represents just how long she has been sewing, metaphorically a woman waiting for love.

The painting is housed by the Tate Britain, London

The Vale of Rest, 1858, John Everett Millais

The Vale of Rest’ (1858, Oil on canvas) is a painting of a graveyard as night is coming in.

In the background a low chapel with a bell and in the foreground two nuns, their heads level and symmetrical. On of the nuns is holding a rosary while the other is digging a grave, her body straining with the effort, whilst her companion watches on in anguish and apprehension.

The painting is currently housed at Tate Britain, London, UK

©JG Farmer 2019

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