These are the 12 most famous paintings by John Everett Millais.
Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was a prominent English painter and one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a revolutionary artistic group that sought to return to the detailed and vibrant style of art that predated the High Renaissance. Born in Southampton, England, Millais showed early artistic talent and, at the age of eleven, became the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy Schools.
Millais, along with fellow artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. The group rejected the academic standards of the time, opting for intense colors, detailed realism, and a focus on nature and medieval themes. Millais’ early works, like Isabella and Christ in the House of His Parents, reflected the Pre-Raphaelite style.
As the movement evolved, Millais’ style transformed. He moved away from the medieval themes and embraced a more naturalistic approach. His painting Ophelia, based on Shakespeare’s character from Hamlet, is a prime example of this shift. It captures a detailed and highly realistic depiction of nature, showcasing Millais’ mastery of both technical skill and emotional depth.
In 1855, Millais was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and he went on to become a full Academician in 1863. His later works included portraiture, genre scenes, and historical subjects. Notable paintings from this period include The Northwest Passage and The Boyhood of Raleigh.
In addition to his painting, Millais had a significant influence on the art world as a successful portraitist and illustrator. He was also involved in the establishment of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution, which aimed to support artists facing financial difficulties.
Millais was later awarded a baronetcy in 1885 and became President of the Royal Academy in 1896, the year of his death. His legacy endures not only for his role in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but also for his contributions to Victorian art, leaving an indelible mark on the trajectory of British painting in the 19th century.
A Flood (1870)
This unusual painting depicts a flooded rural scene, with a young baby in a cradle being washed away. A small black cat sits atop the cradle, and the child appears frightened.
The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower (1878)
The Princes in the Tower refers to Edward V of England and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. They were the sons of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. The two princes disappeared in 1483, and their fate remains one of the enduring mysteries of English history.
Edward IV’s death led to a power struggle known as the Wars of the Roses. The boys were lodged in the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III. After Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry VII ascended the throne, marking the end of the Wars of the Roses.
The fate of the princes has been the subject of much speculation and debate. Many believe they were murdered in the Tower, possibly on the orders of Richard III, to eliminate potential rivals. The mystery surrounding their disappearance has inspired various literary works, including Shakespeare’s play Richard III. The true circumstances of their fate remain uncertain.
Chill October (1870)
This is a landscape painting of a cold October scene near the artist’s home at Bowerswell in Kinnoull, Scotland.
A Huguenot on St Bartholomew’s Day (1851–52)
A Huguenot on St Bartholomew’s Day is a renowned painting by Sir John Everett Millais. Depicting a dramatic historical event, the work captures the emotional intensity of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, during the French Wars of Religion. The painting portrays a Huguenot lover preparing to leave his Catholic sweetheart as tensions rise. The woman offers him a white rose symbolizing purity, while he wears a concealed token, reflecting the dangerous religious divide. Millais skillfully conveys the emotional turmoil and impending tragedy, showcasing the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to historical accuracy and vivid storytelling with meticulous detail.
Cherry Ripe (1879)
Cherry Ripe is Millais’s portrait painting of a little girl named Edie Ramage in a fancy dress.
The Vale of Rest (1858)
The Vale of Rest is a poignant painting by Sir John Everett Millais, illustrating a theme of grief and solace. In this work, Millais depicts a deceased young woman laid to rest, surrounded by mourners in a tranquil cemetery. The scene evokes a sense of sorrow but also a serene acceptance of death. Millais carefully details the natural elements, such as the autumn leaves and the gentle flow of a stream, contributing to the solemn yet peaceful atmosphere. The Vale of Rest reflects the Victorian fascination with mortality and the Romantic idea of finding solace in nature, showcasing Millais’ ability to convey emotional depth and symbolism in his art.
John Henry Newman (1881)
John Henry Newman (1801–1890) was a prominent figure in the 19th-century religious landscape, known for his intellectual contributions, religious writings, and his eventual conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Initially an Anglican priest and a leader of the Oxford Movement, Newman sought to revitalize the Church of England. However, as he delved deeper into theological studies, he underwent a profound spiritual journey and converted to Catholicism in 1845.
Newman’s intellectual legacy includes his influential book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, in which he defended his religious beliefs and traced the development of his spiritual convictions. Later in life, he became a cardinal and continued to contribute to Catholic theology and education. Newman was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2019. His life and writings have left a lasting impact on both Anglican and Catholic thought, and he is remembered for his pursuit of truth and intellectual rigor in matters of faith.
The North-West Passage (1878)
The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Archipelago of Canada. It is a historical and potentially significant maritime route, cutting through the northern coast of North America. The passage has been of great interest to explorers and navigators for centuries, as it offers a shorter route between Europe and Asia compared to traditional southern routes.
Historically, attempts to navigate the Northwest Passage were often thwarted by harsh Arctic conditions, ice-covered waters, and treacherous terrain. The search for a navigable passage through the Arctic was a notable part of early exploration, with famous expeditions led by explorers like Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen.
The Order of Release (1852–53)
The Order of Release is a significant painting by Sir John Everett Millais. Commissioned by art patron James Wyatt, the artwork captures a poignant historical moment. Set during the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the painting depicts a Scottish Jacobite prisoner receiving a pardon order. The emotional center is the reunion of the prisoner with his family, emphasizing themes of mercy and reconciliation. Millais pays meticulous attention to detail, particularly in portraying the varied reactions of the family members.
The Return of the Dove to the Ark (1851)
Return of the Dove to the Ark refers to the biblical narrative found in the book of Genesis, specifically in the story of Noah’s Ark. According to the Bible, after the floodwaters subsided and Noah’s Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, Noah released a series of birds to determine if the land was habitable.
The dove plays a crucial role in this narrative. Noah initially sent out a raven, which did not return, suggesting that the waters had not yet receded. Subsequently, he sent out a dove, but it returned to the ark because it found no place to rest. After waiting for some time, Noah released the dove again, and this time it returned with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating that the waters had sufficiently receded and that life could begin anew on the earth.
This episode is a symbol of hope and renewal, signifying the end of the devastating flood and the start of a new chapter for humanity. The image of the dove carrying an olive branch has become a powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation in various cultures and religions. Artists throughout history have depicted this biblical scene in various forms, capturing the moment of the dove’s return to the Ark as a sign of God’s covenant with humanity.
Mariana was inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name. The artwork portrays the central figure of Mariana, a character from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Mariana is depicted in a desolate, decaying room, embodying a sense of melancholy and abandonment. The details, such as the withered flowers, convey a narrative of unrequited love and isolation. Millais’ meticulous attention to symbolism and mood characterizes the Pre-Raphaelite style, emphasizing a return to detailed observation and emotional expression.
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