Millais – John Everett Millais PRA (1829-96)

John Everett Millais was a prominent Pre-Raphaelite painter with Perthshire connections.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery owns three oil paintings by Millais and some engravings of his works:

  • Portrait of Effie, oil on canvas, 1873
  • Waking (also known as Just Awake), oil on canvas, 1865
  • Portrait of Sir Robert Pullar, oil on canvas, 1896
  • Waking (also known as Just Awake), engraving on paper
  • The Order of Release 1745, mezzotint print on paper, 1856
  • Christmas Eve, etching on paper, 1889

Who was John Everett Millais?

Millais was one of the group of painters known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They re-invigorated British art in the mid-19th century with new ideas about subject, composition and techniques. Millais later achieved great success as a figurative, portrait and landscape painter.

What’s his link with Perth & Kinross?

Millais’ connection with Perthshire is through his marriage to Euphemia Chalmers Gray, known as Effie, a member of the local Gray family of Bowerswell. She was formerly married to John Ruskin. Effie married Millais in 1855 in the drawing room at Bowerswell, and they lived for a time at Annat Lodge nearby.

Bowerswell House was refurbished as a residential home for the elderly as Perth’s memorial to those who served during the Second World War. The grounds have been extensively built on since. Annat Lodge is a private residence and has been extensively remodelled internally since Millais’ time there.

A number of his famous Pre-Raphaelite works feature elements of the local scenery and buildings. These include A Dream of the Past :Sir Isumbras Crossing the Ford (1857, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Merseyside) which features the former (and now demolished) old Bridge of Earn, and The Vale of Rest (1858-9, Tate, London) which combines elements of Bowerswell’s garden and Kinnoull Kirk. Other of his works, such as Autumn Leaves (1855-6, Manchester City Art Gallery) relied on local children to sit as his models.

In his late career, Millais increasingly painted landscape subjects. The scenery of Perthshire and the River Tay feature widely in his work. Millais was a frequent visitor to the area around Dunkeld and Dalguise for many years, usually between the months August and January for painting, shooting and fishing trips.

Chill October

One of his most famous Perthshire landscapes is Chill October (Private Collection) which was painted on a backwater of the Tay near Kinfauns in 1870. Millais set his easel on a raft which was moored in the rushes and the canvas was stored overnight in a nearby railwayman’s hut. It is reputed that when the picture was exhibited in London with a price tag of several hundred pounds, the railway porter who had helped Millais carry it to his hut during its creation on learning of the price retorted that he wouldn’t have paid half a crown (about 12.5 pence) for it.

Chill October was on loan to Perth Museum and Art Gallery from 1937 until 1990 when its owner withdrew it and it sold at auction for a then world record price for a work by Millais. A reproduction of the painting was amongst Vincent van Gogh’s possessions.

Millais’ Portrait of Sir Robert Pullar, the celebrated Perth businessman was painted by public subscription to mark the sitter’s knighthood. It is the last painting completed by Millais before his death.

Further information

There are a number of books which deal specifically with the fascinating if somewhat tortuous relationship between Millais, Effie and Ruskin, and include the following: The Order of Release, the Story of John Ruskin, Effie Gray and John Everett Milais told for the first time in their unpublished letters, by William James (John Donald, London, 1947), Millias and the Ruskins by Mary Lutyens (John Donald, London, 1967), The Ruskins and the Grays by Mary Lutyens (John Donald, London, 1972),  and Effie  A Victorian Scandal, From Ruskin’s Wife to Millais’ Muse  by Merryn Williams (Book Guild Publishing, Brighton, 2010)

Millais’ work has featured in many major exhibitions, most recently at Tate Britain in 2007-07.

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