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John Everett Millais

Pre-Raphaelite painter and illustrator (1829 - 1896) President of the Royal Academy

John Everett Millais was born in Southampton to a wealthy Jersey family. His talent for drawing led his family to move to London to further their son’s artistic career. After training in the Sass’s School in London he enrolled at the Royal Academy at the age of 11. He became the youngest ever student to attend the Royal Academy Schools and was a star pupil. There, he met the painters William Holman Hunt (1827 - 1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882).

The three young students were disappointed with the teaching at the Royal Academy and the style of High Victorian art which prevailed there. They thought that the greatly stylised and idealistic approach of painters such as Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896) had deprived art of its true spirit and capacity to move spectators.

They decided to pursue a new type of art. This would be less reliant on classicism and idealism. The three painters, together with others, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. The name of the movement refers to their artistic influences, which came from medieval art made before the time of the Renaissance artist Raphael (1483 - 1520).

Millais marked the establishment of the Pre-Raphaelite movement by including the initials PRB on the bench where Lorenzo and Isabella are seated in his masterpiece from that era, ‘Isabella’, in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection. The movement was in reality only a loose formation. It did not last more than a few years. This was despite the fact that the founding members and artists continued to paint in a similar manner even after they had departed from their common goal. Millais painted subjects from history, literature and the Bible, and a few modern dress pictures without specific stories. He preceded Ford Madox Brown (1821 - 1893) and Hunt as a Liverpool Academy exhibitor – The Pre-Raphaelites and their associates showed many works in Liverpool. His first work there was ‘Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru’ and he won the Academy’s £50 prize twice, in 1852 and 1857. Millais exhibited 12 paintings at the Liverpool Academy between 1846 and 1867. John Miller (about 1796 - 1876), George Holt (1824 - 1896) and William Hesketh Lever (1851 - 1925) were amongst his collectors. The latter acquired over 20 of his works.

Millais met John Ruskin (1819 - 1900), the British art critic who supported the cause of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in 1851. The two men spent some time in Scotland in 1853 where Millais became close to Ruskin’s wife Effie Gray (1828 - 1897), whom he later married. Millais had a large family to support and saleable works must have become increasingly important to him. From the mid-1850s he illustrated numerous publications and in the 1860s he became popular for pictures of children and portraits of young women. A successful career as a portraitist followed in the 1870s. Millais’ later works were loose and painterly, unlike the sharp focus of his Pre-Raphaelite style. Despite his early disaffection with the Royal Academy he became its President in 1896.

Millais had been greatly influenced by the teaching of Ruskin and his ‘truth to nature’ dogma. Ruskin praised Millais’s work, comparing him with the other important British painter JMW Turner (1775 - 1851). However Ruskin and Millais’s friendship broke up when the painter devoted himself to painting portraits of famous people, an art form that Ruskin considered a sell-out of Millais’s talents. Millais was buried in Artists' Corner in St Paul’s Cathedral next to Leighton and Turner.
  • Gender
    Male
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    British: English
  • Born
    1829-06-08
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Hampshire: Southampton: Portland Street
  • Died
    1896-08-13
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London: Kensington: Palace Gate: No. 2
  • Cause of death
    Cancer of the larynx

1 item(s) from the Pre-Raphaelites collection related to John Everett Millais

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