Sir John Everett Millais – Painter With Some Controversy

Sir John Everett Millais was born in Southampton in 1829. His parents were well known and successful people. They moved to Jersey for a while and then to London in 1838 in order to help their son develop his art career. Millais became the youngest ever student at the Royal Academy in 1840, and was known as “The child”, and his talent caused envy among the other students. He was very agile on his feet and afraid of nothing and this helped him survive the time at the Academy. He made lifelong friends at the Royal Academy in William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. This meeting caused the beginnings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhod.

Millais is regarded by many as the most gifted of the three, and his attention to detail and long painting time for his works produced some amazing scenes. It is said the he would paint outside landscapes in summer and in winter add the figures.

A quote from Millais himself in 1888 describes some of his technique:

“For my own part, I have often been labored, but whatever I am I am never careless. I may honestly say that I have never placed on idle touch on canvas; and that I have always been honest and hardworking; yet the worst pictures I ever painted in my life are those into which I threw the most trouble and labor, and I confess that I should not grieve were half my works to go to the bottom of the Atlantic-if I might choose the half to go.”

His early works, as with the early works of the other Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, were not accepted well. A prominent art critic of the day John Ruskin wrote an article in The Times, supporting the young artists and it was not long before Millais and Ruskin got to know each other. Ruskin, his wile Effie and Millais went on a holiday to Scotland and a strong attraction developed between Millais and Effie, an acrimonious divorce followed, Effie and Millais married in 1855 and quickly had eight children. Even so, Ruskin provided critical support for this young painter.

After the marriage, Millais’ style changed, and he was no longer economically possible to spend so much time on each painting. Some of the detail was no longer included, but it was in keeping with the style that was eagerly purchased. He also started painting portraits and is regarded as one of the best English portrait painters. Many have debated the economic circumstances paved the way for the new style and the world lost a great painter. In 1885, he was the first English painter to be made a Baronet.

In his later years, Millais could see that the quality of his work was declining. In 1892, he thought that he had influenza, but it turned out to be throat cancer, which he had contracted because of many years as a heavy pipe smoker. His health continued to deteriorate. In 1896, Queen Victoria, asked if there was anything that she could do. Millais asked if his wife could be accepted by her, as she had been excluded because of a scandal associated with the annulment of her first marriage. She became Lady Millais. He died a few months later.

After his death, many wrote against Millais for a variety of reasons, but in the end he produced some amazing pieces of art that are still appreciated today.