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Sir John Everett Millais

Millais was born in Southampton in 1829 to a wealthy family. A child prodigy, he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1840 as their youngest ever student. At the Royal Academy he became friendly with fellow student William Holman Hunt, and, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1848 the three formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His first Pre-Raphaelite painting was ‘Isabella’ (1848–9) which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849. The following year, ‘Christ in the House of His Parents’ ('The Carpenter's Shop') (1849–50), was received unfavourably, and famously criticised by the writer Charles Dickens in scathing terms.

As well as Millais’s 'Mariana' the exhibition includes Millais’s portrait, 'Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah' of about 1850, almost a manifesto of his work as a Pre-Raphaelite painter. The engravings on the wall are after famous paintings by Leonardo and Raphael. Millais deplored the latter’s soft, idealised depictions of the Holy Family; his own portrayal of a mother and child here is consciously sharp-focused.

Sir John Everett Millais, 'Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah' (detail), about 1850 © Tate, London (T03858)

The deliberate stiffness of his figures invites comparison with both Early Netherlandish portraiture and the formal poses found in early photographs.
Later in his career Millais became an immensely successful painter, particularly as a portraitist. In 1885 he was created a baronet, and was elected President of the Royal Academy in 1896, the year in which he died.