Tag Archives: John Ruskin

John Everett Millais: Early Years of Married Life and Pre-Raphaelite Gems

3 Sep

I have written a lot about the Pre-Raphaelites on this blog over the years and I don’t wish to be repetitive but at the same time there there is always something new to learn and focus your attention on. So, in this post we’ll take a look at John Everett Millais’ early years of married life and the art he created at that time, with a special focus on three beautiful painting “The Blind Girl”, “Autumn Leaves” and “Peace Concluded”, all painted in 1856.

John Everett Millais, The Blind Girl, 1856

On 3rd July 1855, twenty-six year old Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais finally married Effie Gray. They were overjoyed about the prospect of finally being together, but also emotionally exhausted after years of dealing with the struggles; for Effie the struggle was her previous unhappy marriage with the Victorian art critic John Ruskin, and for Millais it was the anguish at having to suppress his love for Effie during the time she was still married or just recently divorced. The irony is that it was through John Ruskin that the couple got acquainted in the first place. They did meet once before, on a ball, but it wasn’t a memorable event for either of them. Ruskin was a huge supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites and one of the first critics who praised their style. In 1853, Ruskin proposed that John Millais and his brother William join him and Effie on a holiday in the emerald green wilderness of Scotland.

John Everett Millais, Waterfall or Effie at Glenfinlas, 1853, 11.5″ (29.2 cm) x 15.4″ (39.1 cm) 

While there, Millais worked on his painting “The Order of Release” and Effie posed for the female figure. They grew fond of each other’s company and Effie soon started opening up about her life; about her loving parents, childhood spent in Scotland, her siblings, but also about the sad truth of her marriage with Ruskin. Naturally, this was a delicate topic and she must have had great trust in him to share such a thing. Millais as absolutely shocked that Ruskin could be so cold and disinterest in his young beautiful wife, and he was also overwhelmed with a feeling of futility and empathy. He wanted to help Effie but didn’t know quite how, and his own feelings of affection towards her added an even greater torment. In his letters home during that trip he writes of Effie “She is the most delightful unselfish kind-hearted creature I ever knew, it is impossible to help liking her…” And also he started giving her drawing lessons and she proved to be a very dutiful pupil, Millais writes “She has drawn and painted some flowers in oil (the first time she has ever touched a brush) almost as well as I could do them myself.” Millais also painted this charming and very detailed little painting of Effie on the rocks by a waterfall.

John Everett Millais, A portrait of Effie Gray, 1853

Let’s skip the part about the sad and bitter marriage annulment between Effie and Ruskin and focus on the young newlyweds in the summer of 1855. After the wedding ceremony, they sat in a train and were on their way to spend a five week honeymoon in the west coast of Scotland. Millais was very nervous but Effie cheered him up and they had marvelous time together. Since Effie had horrible experiences with the London life, the couple decided to live in Scotland, near to her parents’ house. The letters both wrote to their families show the joy they experienced, Effie wrote to her mother saying “I am so happy with him. You can imagine how much I appreciate his natural character. (…) he is so kind and nice and easy to be with.” She also wrote to her brother George “He diverts me beyond everything. I don’t think I have laughed so much since I was Alice’s age.” (Alice was ten years old at the time.) As they settled into their home, Effie tried to do everything in her power to make their life revolve around his art. She was very practical and nurturing, and offered both her help and compassion when his painting drove him crazy; she would urge him to take a rest when he was working to hard and was very successful in finding local young girls to pose for him. And if he needed a historical costume for his painting, she would do the research and sew it for him.

John Everett Millais, Autumn Leaves, 1856

In 1856 Millais had three remarkable paintings to show; “The Blind Girl” where he portrayed two child beggars one of whom is blind, resting after a rainstorm before they continue their journey to another town. The sad fate of the blind girl and their destitute situation is in contrast with the vibrant and warm colours; that overwhelming warm green-yellow of the endless field behind them, the orange of her dress, the coppery orange-red of her cloak and her hair, and even the blue sky in the upper part of the painting seems so warm. It’s very detailed; just look at the grass and the ground in the lower left corner, and all the birds and the animals, the glistening magical rainbow, and the town in the distance. All this beauty of nature around her, but the poor blind girl cannot see it. But she is able to enjoy other sensations; smell of fresh grass and summer’s day, and song of birds.

Another memorable masterpiece is “Autumn Leaves”. I don’t even know how to do justice to the painting’s beauty with my words. I adore the mood and the colours so much, it’s full of feelings and at the same time beautiful and tinged with melancholy and transience, and it so vividly captures the moment, the twilight of the autumn day. The warmth of the colours, the details of the leaves, the faces of young girls, the sensitivity to capturing the atmosphere so well, it’s just stunning and it’s easy to see what all these paintings where a huge success in London in 1856. Despite the bitter feeling of betrayal, Ruskin still managed to be objective when analysing Millais’ art and he praised this picture saying that it is “by much the most poetical work the painter has yet conceived; and also, so far as I know, the first instance of a perfectly painted twilight. It is easy, as it is common, to give obscurity to twilight, but to give the glow withing its darkness is another matter; and though Giorgione might have come nearer glow, he never gave the valley mist. Note also the subtle difference between the purple of the long nearer range of hills and the blue of the distant peak.

John Everett Millais, Peace Concluded, 1856

The Last picture of the 1856 trio is “Peace Concluded”, also known as “The Return from Crimea” which shows a wounded officer who had recently returned from the war and is now resting in his family nest, surrounded by his loving wife and rose-cheeked children. The foliage behind them looks as if it came from Millais’ painting “Ophelia” while the garish carpet looks like it belongs to the interior from William Holman Hunt’s painting “Awakening Conscience”. A dog curled on the sofa overlooks the scene. Effie Millais posed for the central figure of the wife, and the husband and wife are presented as very close to each other; her arms are wrapped around him comfortingly and this could be related to Millais’ personal life and his joy and closeness with Effie because the date of the picture matched the date of their first year marriage anniversary.

I felt it was important to discuss this short period in Millais’ life because his style changed a lot after he got married; being the man and the bread-winner for an ever growing family (he and Effie ended up having eight children) he was strained by responsibilities and chose to paint with less emphasis on details and focusing on themes that he knew the audience would love and approve, and people would want to buy. Some, like William Morris for example, have commented that he had sold out and that he didn’t stay true to the original aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brootherhood; he certainly didn’t spent as much time studying nature attentively or painting in a very detailed style like he did early in his career, and he didn’t stay true to the original aim of originality. Still, that’s not to say all his later work is bad, not at all, there are many interesting paintings in his oeuvre but I feel that these paintings from mid 1850s are some of his last Pre-Raphaelite gems.

John Everett Millais, Sophie Gray, 1857

John Everett Millais, The Vale of Rest, 1858-59

John Everett Millais, The Martyr of the Solway, 1871

John Everett Millais, Portrait of Alice Gray, 1858

John Everett Millais, Spring (Apple Blossoms), 1859

This is how Millais defended himself in a letter to William Holman Hunt: “You argue that if I paint for the passing fashion of the day my reputation some centuries hence will not be what my powers would secure me if I did more ambitious work. I don’t agree. A painter must work for the taste of his own day. How does he know what people will like two or three hundred years hence? I maintain that a man should hold up the mirror to his own times. I want proof that the people of my day enjoy my work, and how can I get this better than by finding people willing to give me money for my productions, and that I win honours from contemporaries. What good would recognition of my labours hundreds of years hence do me? I should be dead, buried, and crumbled into dust.

I think it’s fascinating to actually hear an artist make such a statement, and show that he does care about getting praise and approval from his time and people of his time.

Desperate Romantics (2009) – A Review

6 May

I’ll start off this post by saying I absolutely loved ‘Desperate Romantics‘ – a period drama set in Victorian London which revolves around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; their art, lives, loves and scandals.

WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009***

First glimpse of Desperate Romantics, from left to right; Rafe Spall as a somewhat austere perfectionist William Holman Hunt, also known as ‘Maniac’, Aidan Turner as the dashing Byronic Hero, ‘half-Italian, half-mad’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Samuel Barnett as a child-prodigy, sweet and bewildered John Everett Millais, and lastly Sam Crane as the gentle, caring and ‘always-in-the-shadow-of-others’ Fred Walters; a composite character mainly based on Fred Stevens and several other historical figures who serves as a journalist and a diarist of the brotherhood.

I found the actors and actresses wonderful and perfectly suitable for their roles. Every character has an individualised personality and that is one of the main reasons this period drama is so brilliant. This emphasis on individual personality traits, be it good or bad ones, helps a great deal to understand the artworks they produced. Their choice of subjects seems so natural after understanding their characters. For example, the strong-willed and religious Hunt would never go on painting sensual women or characters from Roman mythology, and likewise it’s inconceivable that Rossetti would ever paint anything similar to The Light of the World.

***

desperate romantics 2

Brooding Rossetti and his sorrowful muse

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I very much enjoyed how relatable everyone seemed. Their conversations and jokes in the pub sounded beautifully modern. Pre-Raphaelites smoked hashish, consumed opium, flirted with waitresses and visited brothels. In several scenes you can even see Charles Dickens himself entertaining the ‘ladies’. After watching this, I feel like the Victorian world wasn’t as grim and proper as presented, perhaps in the higher classes but not amongst artists and intellectuals.

In Desperate Romantics Featurette (you can watch it on YouTube) actors and actresses talk about their roles and opinions of the PRB. I found it especially thrilling how Rafe Spall connected the members of the Brotherhood to modern artists and writers. He made a parallel with the Beat Generation and compared Fred Walters to Jack Kerouac, Millais to Neal Cassady, Rossetti to Allen Ginsberg and Hunt to William Burroughs. Also, he compared the radical avant-garde quality of the brotherhood to Punk Rock, and he described the make-up and hairstyle of Annie Miller (Hunt’s girfriend and model) as being Vivienne Westwood-esque.

***

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DESPERATE ROMANTICS

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal

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I’m afraid that costumes are a great factor for me, and in Desperate Romantics it was yet another source of enjoyment. As you can see from the pictures I’ve assembled here, dresses worn by Lizzie Siddal are very simple and romantic, made of printed cotton in earthy colours, no corsets or crinolines. Along with her long flowing coppery hair, she looks more like a Medieval maiden than a Victorian lady. Apart from a few bonnets, everything seemed historically accurate. Men’s attire was interesting as well, which is unusual because it tends to be boring and grey. Millais is a true peacock, usually wearing scarlet-coloured velvet jackets and lots of purples and greens. Rossetti is very flamboyant but more sophisticated, he wears loose, half-unbuttoned shirts and vibrant coloured scarves. Fred is all simple and proper, true mama’s boy and Hunt is dressed according to his reserved nature, but after his trip to the East, he starts growing a beard, smoking hashish straight from Syria and dressing with a touch of East just like The Rolling Stones when then discovered Marocco.

***

desperate romantics 9

First love couple: Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt and Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller

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I’ve read some complaints about the lack of art in the series and I highly disagree. Exhibition of Millais’ Ophelia, an important moment for the PRB, was well presented and so was the moment when Rossetti found his new direction in portraying pure womanly sensuality after an encounter with Fanny Cornforth. Millais, Rossetti, Hunt and Fred are often seen visiting the Royal Gallery, even objecting the mainstream Victorian art, Rossetti said: The Academy’s utter disgust is what gets us all out of bed in the morning‘, continuing Where is the naturalism, where is the life, the flesh, the blood, the nature?’ When Hunt comes back from his trip, he also showcases his paintings, and after Lizzie dies we see grief stricken Rossetti painting Beata Beatrix. We see Rossetti painting Jane Morris and the murals in a nearby church, and Lizzie painting as well. Is this not enough art?

In Desperate Romantics we are presented by something even more important than ‘art’, we see the background of their artworks and everything that went on in their personal lives and the way it reflected on their works. The series captured the mood of the Brotherhood and I think that’s not only more interesting, but more important. Anyone can simply google their paintings, but it takes a lot more to understand them.

***

desperate romantics 13

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal as Victorian era Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull

INTERESTING QUOTES:

“We are artists, we thrive on strong emotions.” (Elizabeth Siddal, ep 5)

“We cannot confuse our feeling about the artist with the art, that would leave us only able to admire works of those we like.” (John Ruskin, ep 3)

“I insists it’s the most noble profession there is. An artist only records beauty, but a model radiates it. If I were Millais, oh, I would paint you in a pure white silk dress.” (Rossetti’s opinion on modelling and words directed to Jane Burden)

“I find the modern world the most random and confusing place.” (Millais, ep 3)

***

desperate romantics 7

Love couple number 3: Millais and Effie as Victorian version of Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg

A only have a few objections. Firstly, I’d love to have seen Rossetti’s family because his sister Christina was a poet and his brother William Michael also belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Secondly, no mention of Lizzie’s stillborn child and that was something that deeply saddened her and ultimately led to her death. Thirdly, too many sex scenes which was tasteless and unnecessary in my opinion. It’s obvious that Rossetti wasn’t celibate. Perhaps a hint of intimacy would be more interesting than seeing Rossetti jump on every redhead in London.

All in all, I loved Desperate Romantics – escapism into the bohemian circles of Victorian era London. It’s beyond inspiring, the story itself is enigmatic and interesting, actors were brilliant, thoroughly recommend it! There are six episodes, each is one hour long. If you can spare six hours of your life, I sincerely recommend you to do that.

Effie Gray (2014) – A Review

24 Apr

dakota fanning as effie gray 1

I watched Effie Gray about a month ago and I fairly enjoyed it so I thought I’d share my impressions with my readers.

First of all, I was drawn by the story because I love the Pre-Raphaelites and I have been fascinated by this ‘Victorian Love Triangle’ for quite a while. The scandalous love triangle involves Effie Gray, played by Dakota Fanning, art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise) and the young Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais played by Tom Sturridge whom you may have watched in Waste of Shame (2004). Secondly, the costumes allured me even before I watched the movie, and I was naturally curious about Effie’s wardrobe since I am very fond of the early Victorian era fashion. Effie’s dresses and hairstyles were in the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites, and her green dinner dress with details of black lace was splendid.

Even thought I had doubts about Effie being played by Dakota Fanning, I changed my mind after ten minutes of watching the movie. What I liked the most about the movie is the portrayal of Effie’s loneliness and isolation. I never actually thought about it, despite being familiar with the story and Effie’s marriage. This movie really made me symphatise with Effie; being very young and naive she must have felt confused and lonely living with Ruskin and his dominating parents, not even sure of his affection towards her anymore, away from home and cut off from all of her loved ones.

dakota fanning as effie gray 13

My favourite part of the movie is when Effie, Millais and Ruskin travel to Scotland where Effie is to improve her health, and Millais is to paint a portrait of Ruskin. In those gloomy days of solitary and rain Effie and Everett fell in love. I think Tom Sturridge portrayed Millais very well; he seemed shy, sweet and caring, especially in comparison with Ruskin’s aloofness and general disinterest. Along with his amiable nature, Everett was young and passionate, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Effie fell in love with him, who wouldn’t? The Scottish landscapes are exquisite, wild, gloomy and picturesque! And it rained all the time, could there have been a better background for a love story?

Lastly, I thought the ending was vague. To those who are acquainted with the story of Effie and Millais the everything will be clear; Effie’s marriage to Ruskin will be annuled and she’ll eventually marry Everett. But not everybody is familiar with the story, and to those who are not the ending might seem confusing and disappointing. We mustn’t forget that divorce wasn’t as easy in Victorian era as it is now. Effie was fortunate enough to get her marriage annulled, but things could have played out differently. I just think that the movie could have ended in a better way, a scene of Effie marrying Millais might have been appropriate?

As for Ruskin, I think he shouldn’t have married Effie and then deny her love. He seems rather selfish, cold and aloof. Marriage to him must have been a condemnation to solitude. It is clear from the beginning that Ruskin’s true bride was art. Fortunately, Effie managed to get away from the sad life that was ahead of her.

All in all, I liked the film and I’d give it 4/5 just because there are better period dramas such as Jane Eyre (2011) and Sense and Sensibility (1995) which would earn all five stars on my scale, but I still liked the film very much and I’ll probably watch it again.

Effie Gray – Early Flower Power

18 Jan

Flower Power is a phrase usually connected to the 1960s. First things that come to one’s mind regarding this decade are probably the hippie movement, Psychedelia, Swinging London, Woodstock, etc. Hippies were famous for their liberal attitude towards life, their rejection of social norms, and their free, back-to-nature lifestyle, but they were not the first to have such ideas. Wearing flowers in your hair as a sign of protest is nothing new.

1851. Effie Gray

Effie Gray, a very fascinating and liberal woman, most famous for being John Everett Millais’ wife. Lady Millais left her first husband, art critic John Ruskin, without the marriage being consummated, and married the more charming and handsome Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and figures associated with it have always reminded me of the counter-culture of the 1960s. They were very liberal, decadent, open-minded and adventurous, especially if you place them in a time period – the Victorian era. Their art often shocked both critics and the audience, but nevertheless left them curious and begging for more. With their art, the Pre-Raphaelites influenced the social norms and fashion too, and Effie, with her liberal ideas and bohemian attitude, blended perfectly in this Victorian avant-garde. She was a woman ahead of her time.

1853. Sir John Everett Millais, 1853, Portrait of Effie Ruskin, later Lady Millais (neé Euphemia Chalmers Gray)

While still married to John Ruskin, Effie is said to have worn flowers in her hair, perhaps as a sign of her assertive nature. As the relationship between Effie and her husband was becoming more and more difficult, Effie used every chance to defy him and prove herself independent. On a trip to Scotland with Ruskin, who was still her husband, and Millais, Effie gathered beautiful little pink foxgloves to place in her hair. Effie showed defiance upon wearing flowers in her hair again for breakfast, despite being asked by Ruskin not to do so.

A week before this ‘incident‘, on Midsummer Day, Effie wore stephanotis flowers in her hair at an evening party in Northumberland. The hostess, Pauline Trevelyan, noted that Effie ‘looked lovely’. Stephanotis flowers are usually white and are popular for their rich scent; the combination which makes them common as wedding flowers. That’s not the of Effie ‘scandalous’ behavior, while in Venice, Effie had removed her bonnet in the public, most likely because of the heat.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, their art and lifestyles, the whole atmosphere connected to it, has foreshadowed the hippie movement in the 1960s and played an important part in creating the ’60s aesthetics.

Millais’ Autumn Leaves

27 Sep

As the Autumn is approaching with its red falling leaves, cold misty mornings, endless rain and vivid dusk painted in golden and purple shades, this painting is becoming more and more dear to me.

1856. automn leaves - John Everett Millais

Painting Autumn leaves was painted in 1856. by John Everett Millais, a famous Pre-Raphaelite artist who also painted even more famous Ophelia of who I’ve written earlier. In painting Autumn leaves Millais wanted to depict a picture ‘full of beauty and without a subject’ according to his wife Effie. Art critic John Ruskin, responsible for promoting the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood in their beginning when everybody rejected their work, described the painting as ‘the first instance of a perfectly painted twilight’.

The painting depicts four girls collecting fallen leaves in the twilight. They are making a bonfire, but only the smoke is visible to the audience. The overall atmosphere of the painting is melancholic; Autumn as a subject is the saddest months when the nature is reaching the end, slowly dying, and the product of its death are red and yellow falling leaves, misty mornings and vivid twilights; Nature saying goodbye in a sorrowful way. The girl in the middle who is holding a bunch of leaves in her hand and gazing sentimentally and thoughtfully at the viewer while her long auburn hair dances on the dusky Autumn wind is Sophy Gray, Millais’ sister in law. The girl on the far left is Alice Gray, Sophy’s younger sister. A year and a half before this painting was exhibited in 1856, Millais married Effie Gray, former wife of the already mentioned art critic John Ruskin, and Sophy and Alice are Effie’s younger sisters. The little girl on the right is holding an apple, which may allude to the loss of childhood and could be a reference to the original sin.

Sophy is a beautiful girl, only thirteen at the time, yet verging into womanhood, her beauty blossoming like a spring rose. She modeled for Millais three times, but this was the first painting which she posed for him. Even at thirteen she looks stunning, leaving the other girls in the shadow of her beauty and charm. However, the painting is typically interpreted as a representation of transience of beauty and youth, the Autumn being a symbol of transience and death. Inspiration for the painting was Lord Tennyson’s poem Tears, Idle Tears, particularly one verse:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking on the days that are no more.

I suppose this painting is Millais’ Ode to Autumn, which was inspirational to many artists before him, particularly in Romanticism. I can’t resist mentioning Keats’ same named poem or Emily Bronte’s poem Fall, leaves, fall. Autumn is a season of vivid colours, smells, cold mornings, rainy afternoons and melancholy.

Ode to Autumn

”Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.”

Fall, leaves, fall

”Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.”