The Little Speedwell's Darling Blue

LL 3620


The title of this work is derived from Tennyson's 'In Memoriam': "Bring orchis, bring the foxglove spire, The little speedwell's darling blue, Deep tulips dash'd with fiery dew, Labernums, dropping-wells of fire." The model was Phyllis James, grand-daughter of the artist. Painted four years before his death, this is the most liquid-textured of all Millais' works in Merseyside collections. The background is treated with dilute oil glazes, suggesting the translucency of watercolour, and the wispy foliage and fabric echo the fancy pictures of Gainsborough painted more than a century earlier. Lever bought this painting and another very similar picture by Millais, 'The Nest', in the summer of 1896. Although they were intended for his home, Thornton Manor, they are both very close in style and subject to the paintings by lesser artists that Lever had been earlier buying for reproduction as soap advertisements.