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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais

A Tour of John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais (1829 –  1896) was a Victorian-era English painter who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his home in London. Millais became a famous exponent of the style with this painting. By the mid-1850s, Millais was moving away from the Pre-Raphaelite style. He had developed a new and powerful form of realism in his art.

A Tour of John Everett Millais Masterpieces

  • Isabella
    • “Isabella” by John Everett Millais depicts a scene in the relationship between Isabella, the sister of wealthy merchants, and their poor apprentice Lorenzo. It shows the moment at which Isabella’s jealous brothers realize that there is a romance between the two young people. The brothers later plot to murder Lorenzo so they can marry Isabella to a wealthy nobleman. The painting illustrates an episode from a 1300s story which was reprised by John Keats in poem form. Museum: Walker Art Gallery

  • Christ in the House of His Parents
    • “Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Milla depicts the Holy Family in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The painting centers on the young Jesus, who has cut his hand while assisting Joseph in his workshop. The composition has a plethora of symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject.

      The most interesting aspect of this painting was how controversial it was when it was first exhibited. It received many negative reviews because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor. Museum: Tate Britain

  • The Martyr of Solway
    • “The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais portrays Margaret Wilson (1667 – 1685), who was a young Scottish teenager of the Scottish Presbyterian movement. Margaret Wilson was executed by drowning for refusing to swear an oath declaring James VII (James II of England) as head of the church. Wilson was executed along with Margaret McLachlan.

      However, Wilson became the more famous of the two women because of her youth; she was about 18 years of age at the time of her death. As a teenager, her faith in the face of death became celebrated as part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches. They believed that no man, not even a king, could be the spiritual head of their church. They also opposed the authority of the bishops in the Church. They believed that only Jesus Christ could be the spiritual head of a Christian faith. Museum: Walker Art Gallery

  • Ophelia
    • “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais depicts Ophelia, a character in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet; the scene is described in a speech by Queen Gertrude. Ophelia is singing while floating in a river in Denmark before she drowns. This Pre-Raphaelite work was not highly regarded when first exhibited at the Royal Academy, but has since come to be admired and influential for its beauty and its detailed and accurate depiction. Museum: Tate Britain

  • Blow Blow Thou Wind
    • “Blow Blow Thou Wind” by John Everett Millais depicts a winter landscape with a hapless dog at the center, with divided loyalty between the stranded mother with her child, and the man who is walking away. Which will the loyal dog pick? The mother is seated on a rock in the snow. She has her shawl pulled over her head to keep the wind and cold from her child as it feeds. In the distance, the child’s father is walking away. Museum: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

  • The Black Brunswicker
    • The Black Brunswicker by John Everett Millais was inspired by the exploits of the Black Brunswickers, a German volunteer corps of the Napoleonic Wars, during the Waterloo campaign. Millais depicts a Brunswicker about to depart for battle. His sweetheart, wearing a ballgown, restrains him, trying to push the door closed, while he pulls it open.

      This scene was imagined to have occurred during a ball, that took place on 15 June 1815, from which the officers departed to join troops at the Battle of Quatre Bras. The artist has expertly contrasted the officer’s black broadcloth and the lady’s pearl-white satin in a moment of tender conflict. Museum:  Lady Lever Art Gallery

  • A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford
    • A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford by John Everett Millais depicts an aged medieval knight helping two young peasant children over a river. The children are carrying wood for winter fuel. The title of the painting refers to the medieval poem Sir Isumbras. When first exhibited, the picture was extremely controversial and was attacked by many critics. Museum:  Lady Lever Art Gallery

John Everett Millais

Pre-Raphaelites

The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848. The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.” The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail. The Brotherhood’s new doctrines, as defined by William Michael Rossetti, were expressed in four declarations:

  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, to know how to express them;
  • to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
  • the most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly enjoyable pictures and statues.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas. A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Artists

Reflections

  • Waterhouse had a passion for depicting the themes of love unrequited or frustrated by the fates.

A Tour of Artists and their Art

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“Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”
– Christina Rossetti

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Photo Credit: John Everett Millais [Public domain]

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