John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896): A child prodigy in art, John
Everett Millais entered the Royal Academy Schools at age 11, and
exhibited at the RA from age 17. There he became friends first
with Holman Hunt, and afterwards Rossetti, and these three founded
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Millais produced the most
well-known portrait of the famous critic in 1854, and incidentally
married the wife of Ruskin after the latter's marriage was annulled.
He thrived at the Royal Academy, becoming ARA as early as 1853,
then RA and finally, in the year of his death, President of the
Academy. However, his art became more popular, and he turned to
pictures of society ladies, little girls, and fashionable lovers.
His St Isumbras at the Ford, showing the knight and two oversweet
children on an oversize horse, induced the young Frederick Sandys
to draw a famous caricature featuring Millais as the knight, Rossetti
and Holman Hunt as the children, and the donkey as John Ruskin.
Work by Millais can be seen at the Tate Gallery (Ophelia and The
Vale of Rest), Birmingham (The Blind Girl), Manchester (Autumn
Leaves), Liverpool (Lorenzo and Isabella at the Walker Art Gallery),
Port Sunlight (St Isumbras at the Ford and The Black Brunswicker
at the Lady Lever Gallery), and at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
(Return of the Dove to the Ark). The Bride of Lammermoor is in
Bristol. The Convalescent and Brighteyes are in the Aberdeen art
(Apple Blossoms), 1859 was painted over a four-year period in which
Millais worked in a number of orchard settings. The young girls,relaxing
in an orchard of spring blossom, tasting curds and cream. However,
the figure in the bottom right-hand corner - symbolic of death under
an arched scythe - confronts the viewer with the notion of life's
transience. At exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1859, the response
was unfavourable and he had difficulty selling the work. The painting
attracted very strong critical condemnation from The Times and The
Atheneum, the latter maintaining that Millais 'dreaded distance.'
The inclusion of a low grey stone preventing spatial disharmony
wall somewhat confirms this but it seemed as though the critics
ganged up on Millais. To the modern eye the painting looks exquisite.
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