'Spring (Apple Blossoms)' 1859

Sir John Everett Millais (1829 – 1898)

Oil on canvas, 113 x 176.3cm
Accession Number LL3624

Sir John Everett Millais 'Spring (Apple Blossoms)'

Though known for his historical narrative paintings such as ‘ Sir Isumbras at the Ford’, at about the same time Millais painted a small number of modern dress pictures without specific stories. They were ‘mood’ pictures intended to awaken ‘the deepest religious reflection’, to quote the artist.

The girls, relaxing in an orchard of spring blossom, are tasting curds and cream. The underlying theme, however, is the transience of youth and beauty. This is expressed in the fragile bloom of adolescence, the wild flowers and the changing seasons. The scythe on the right indicates the inevitability of death.

This type of picture, showing contemplative figures seated in an idyllic landscape, goes back to the ‘fête champêtre’ (literally ‘country feast’, or outdoor entertainment) paintings of Titian and Giorgione. It anticipates the figure compositions of dreamy young women painted by Whistler in the 1860s.