Millais Milieu


Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was one of the most talented and accomplished artists of the 19th century. In the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, he was described as "the cleverest and one of the most prolific book illustrators of the "˜sixties" (1860s, that is), even though his book illustration was just a side project to his painting. Since tomorrow is the 112th anniversary of Millais' death, now is a good time to honor readers Brandy and Nerak's request for a post on him.

1. While attending the Royal Academy schools, John Millais was known as "the child," because he had entered the schools at the "unprecedented age of eleven." The talent of the "infant prodigy" was a source of jealousy for his fellow students, though at least two, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, became his close, life-long friends.

2. The painting shown above, "Christ in the House of His Parents," was highly disliked and criticized when it was first painted. One very outspoken critic was none other than Charles Dickens, who believed the painting showed "the lowest depths of what is mean, repulsive, and revolting." He spoke of Millais' Jesus as "a hideous wry-necked blubbering boy." Today, "Christ in the House of His Parents" would be considered a typical depiction of the holy family, but in Millais' time it was considered disrespectful and sacrilegious to show the holy family as ordinary people.

3. Millais was highly successful his whole life, beginning with his time at the Royal Academy schools. At age 25, he was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy, becoming the youngest artist (other than Sir Thomas Lawrence) to achieve such an honor. He was also materially successful, at one point earning as much as £30,000 a year. In 1885, he became the first artist to be honored with a hereditary title when he was granted a baronetcy.

4. The most famous sexual scandal of the time centered around Millais and the wife of art critic John Ruskin. In the 1850s, Millais and Ruskin became such good friends that they, along with Ruskin's wife Euphemia (Effie) vacationed together. After Millais painted a portrait of Effie, the two fell in love. The Ruskin marriage had never been consummated, so Effie was able to receive an annulment and marry Millais. Despite the acrimonious divorce, and the fact that Effie went on to bear Millais 8 children, Ruskin still gave Millais favorable reviews.

5. In 1896, Millais was elected the president of the Royal Academy, but served for less than a year. He was already sick with what was believed to be influenza when he received the position, but it turned out he had throat cancer. (Millais was quite fond of smoking pipes.) Millais was so sick by July 1896 that Queen Victoria herself contacted him to ask if she could do anything for him. He asked that his wife be received in court by the queen, as Effie had been excluded since her scandalous divorce. In August, he succumbed to the cancer.

A larger version of "Christ in the House of His Parents" is available here; there's also a high-resolution version available. Fans of Millais should check out his ARC and Liverpool Museums galleries; "his" MySpace profile; The Life and Letters of Sir John Millais by his son; and the Tate's in-depth look at Millais' "Ophelia." "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.