Sir John Everett Millais was an British painter and illustrator who lived and worked during the Victorian era. Born June 8, 1829 in Southampton, England, to a well-known and prominent family, Millais showed artistic talent at an early age. In 1838, Millais and his family moved to London to pursue his art education. He first started at Sass' Art School and before being admitted to the Royal Academy, a top art school, at age 11. Millais was the youngest pupil at the Royal Academy, a child prodigy, earning him the nickname of 'The Child'. The talented artist earned silver and gold medals for his artwork at the Royal Academy. Millais exhibited his first work, Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru with the Royal Academy in 1846. The Royal Academy led Millais to meet and befriend future Pre-Raphaelites, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Millais was a founding partner of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with two other artists, Hunt and Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a small grouping of Victorian artists dedicated to painting real, lifelike subjects with high attention to detail. This view of the subjects was unusual for the time, caused controversy, and made the Pre-Raphaelites popular with the public.
Millais, Hunt, and Rossetti formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. The Brotherhood opposed the Royal Academy's support of the master artist Raphael. An artist during the Renaissance, Raphael's style depicted only perfection, avoiding images of real life or true reality. While many artists agreed with his ideals and followed his style during the 1800s and early 1900s, the brotherhood opposed his view that imperfections should not be shown in art.
Rather, the Pre-Raphaelites showed very lifelike images within their art. Early works created by the brotherhood were largely religiously-themed, but they grew to find inspiration from literature and poetry, as well, dealing mostly with love and death. Millais, the most gifted out of the group, produced art that was highly detailed, realistic, and focused on the beauty of the natural world. His first Pre-Raphaelite painting was Isabella exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849.
In 1850, Millais showed, Christ in the House with his Parents at the Royal Academy. This painting represented Christ, as a part of a working class family, at his parent's messy carpentry shop. Staying true to the Pre-Raphaelite ideals of showing reality, Millais confronted criticism for this painting. Showing Christ and his family as members of the working class created controversy, as many took offense to Millais' choice to not glorify Christ as God, but instead to show the family as real, regular people on Earth.
During his work with the Pre-Raphaelites, Millais produced other famous works, including The Order of Release and Ophelia.
Ophelia, one of his better-known works, exemplifies his dedication to detail and his ability to achieve hyper-realism with paint. His dedication to his work was unusual for the time. In fact, Millais spent multiple months outside by a local stream to get a sense of the landscape and also had his model lay in a bathtub fully clothed to get every detail.
Life After the Brotherhood
After his marriage to Effie Chambers in 1855, Millais started to move away from Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement. His departure from such realistic pieces of art was largely driven by the amount of time such pieces required. With a family to provide for and less time to produce works, Millais' paintings now featured a broader, looser, more spontaneous style of painting. Around this time he also worked on illustrations for numerous publications. Some of his later works include The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves. He expanded his portfolio in his later years to include landscapes and portraits, including those of child subjects.
A profitable, successful artist, Millais fathered eight children with his wife, Effie. He continued producing artwork and working with the Royal Academy late into his life. In 1885, he was appointed as a baronet. He was the first English artist to be made a baronet and from that point forward was titled Sir John Everett Millais. In 1896, Millias became President of the Royal Academy, but became ill and died not long after. He died of throat cancer in August of 1896 and is buried at St. Paul Cathedral in London.
Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was a British artist, known for his role in establishing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with fellow artists William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Millais, like other Pre-Raphaelites, differed from the popular Raphaelite style of idealizing images and painting life only through a lens of perfection. Instead, Millais and his peers depicted real life using a strong attention to detail and a hyper-realistic style that was unusual and controversial for the time. Popular, controversial, and successful, Millais' works feature beautiful women, love and death, and magnificent attention to detail. He would often go to great lengths to depict lifelike subjects and landscapes.
Following marriage and fatherhood, Millais drifted from realism in his paintings, due to the amount of time they required. His works expanded to include illustrations, landscapes, and portaits. He was the first artist to be given the title of baronet and, after his appointment as President of the Royal Academy, died in 1896.
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