WAG 272


John Everett Millais was one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was thought by many to have been the most technically brilliant of the group. Millais painted in a very detailed manner using bold colours to attain a high degree of realism, as can be seen in this painting. This painting was George Holt’s first major acquisition for Sudley. He paid £1575 for it in 1885, when it marked a distinct move upmarket in his art collecting. Henceforward, he would concentrate - almost exclusively - on ‘blue chip’ artists marketed by his preferred dealers, Thomas Agnew and Sons. By the time he painted this work, Millais had abandoned his youthful Pre-Raphaelite principles in favour of popular subjects that showed off his bravura handling of paint. This is a fancy portrait of an artists’ model posing as the lover of the 18th century writer, Jonathan Swift. There is a companion to this painting, entitled 'Stella', at the Manchester Art Gallery. Both depict women who have just received letters, the contents of which seem to displease them. 'Stella', the earlier of the two, was shown at the 1868 Royal Academy exhibition; while 'Vanessa' was shown the following year. Both pictures were enthusiastically received and Millais was commended for his bold use of colour and his rendering of flesh tones. A critic from the Art Journal wrote: “in the painting of flesh we doubt if he be surpassed by any contemporary artist in the world; so transparent are his tissues, so clear his tones, so much of the pulse of young life and the blush of redolent health are present beneath the soft skin. Flesh painting is the most difficult of arts; perhaps since the time of Reynolds no one has succeeded better than Mr Millais.”