Sir John Everett Millais

Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), an English painter of great technical brilliance, was a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

John Everett Millais was born in Southampton. His parents recognized his precocious talent and moved to London when John was 9. That year he won the Silver Medal for drawing from the Royal Society of Arts. At the age of 11 he entered the Royal Academy Schools and won a succession of prizes, including the Gold Medal in 1847.

At this time Millais's close friend William Holman Hunt was formulating new ideas under the influence of John Keats's poetry and John Ruskin's Modern Painters. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Inspired by this new approach, Millais painted Lorenzo and Isabella (1849), from Keats's Isabella, and Christ in the House of His Parents (1850). The latter painting was exhibited in the academy in 1850; Charles Dickens said it showed "the lowest depths of what is mean, repulsive, and revolting," but it was strongly defended by Ruskin, who subsequently became a close friend of Millais. Their friendship ended in 1855, when Millais married Mrs. Ruskin a year after the annulment of her marriage.

Millais's Huguenot and Ophelia, exhibited in 1852, were immediate public successes, and in 1853 Millais was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood began to break up, and Millais's last works in this style, the Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves (both 1856), although among his best, were not well received. His former serious sense of purpose now gave way to a more direct popular appeal. The Black Brunswicker was a deliberate and successful attempt to repeat the popularity of the Huguenot. In 1863 he was elected a royal academician and became established as a fashionable artist.

During the 1860s Millais abandoned his earlier meticulous technique and developed a more fluent style, often painting directly onto the canvas, with few preparatory drawings, and rendering detail with almost impressionistic freedom. Outstanding among his many distinguished portraits is that of Mrs. Bischoffsheim, which illustrates the technical virtuosity that won him many honors and such acclaim at European exhibitions. Perhaps his most widely known portrait was of his grandson "Bubbles"; its enormous popularity as an advertisement infuriated the artist.

Apart from rather sentimental genre subjects, such as the Yeomen of the Guard (1876), Millais painted a series of remarkable landscapes, beginning with Chill October (1870), and his St. Stephen (1894) is an example of the religious themes to which he returned at the end of his life.

In 1885 Millais was created a baronet. He was elected president of the Royal Academy in February 1896 and died in August.


Further Reading on Sir John Everett Millais

The standard biography of Millais is M.H. Spielmann, Millais and His Works (1898), which was slightly amplified by John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais (2 vols., 1899; 3d ed. 1902). A good general background is in Robin Ironside and John Gere, Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1948), and Graham Reynolds, Victorian Painting (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Millais, John Everett, Sir, bart., Sir John Everett Millais, London: Academy Editions; New York: distributed by Rizzoli International Publications, 1979.

Watson, J. N. P., Millais: three generations in nature, art & sport, London: Sportsman's Press, 1988.