Stephens on Millais

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, R.A., D.C.L.

F. G. Stephens, "Mr. John Everett Millais, R.A, D.C.L.," Artists at Home, 1884.

Stephens’s biography of John Everett Millais is littered with praise and appreciation for his art, his friendship, and his disposition. In his introduction, Stephens forewarns that his brief biographical sketch will not fully encapsulate Millais but nevertheless provides valuable information about his contributions to the Victorian art world. Stephens focuses on Millais’s superior technical skill and understanding of art, complimenting him through a comparison with the great masters, including Titian, Raphael, and Velázquez. He supports these assertions with frequent references to the numerous awards and honors bestowed upon Millais, even recalling an instance where the President of the Royal Academy had advised Millais’s parents: “Make an artist of him, by all means. Nature has provided for his success.” The text overwhelmingly demonstrates Stephens’s great admiration and respect for Millais, in part explained by their shared connection as founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais and Stephens enjoyed a close friendship from the start of the PRB in 1848 until Millais’s death in 1896, and it is therefore not surprising that Stephens would regard both Millais and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as nothing short of revolutionary, working “wonders in the practice of art.”

<em>Ferdinand Lured by Ariel</em>

J. E. Millais, Ferdinand Lured by Ariel, 1850. As Stephens mentions in his biographical essay, he himself was the model for Ferdinand.

Indeed, Stephens’s biography focuses primarily on the earlier years of Millais’s life: his successes before entering the Royal Academy and his accomplishments as a member of the PRB. In choosing to focus on the period of Millais’s career in which he himself was most involved, Stephens may intend to heighten the credibility of his biography and assure his readers that the biographical information was gathered by him personally. Exhaustive lists of Millais’s works constitute a large portion of Stephens’s text, and these lists attest to both the extent of Millais’s accomplishments and to Stephens’s immense knowledge about the artist’s career. While Stephens may exaggerate this relationship, Millais would likely agree that Stephens understood him on a level unparalleled by most other art critics at the time. Stephens carefully observed Millais’s career from very early on; in an 1856 article in The Crayon, Stephens picked up on the religious implications of Autumn Leaves often overlooked by his contemporaries, to which Millais replied, “I have always felt insulted when people have regarded the picture as a simple little domestic episode, chosen for effect, and colour, as I intended the picture to awaken by its solemnity the deepest religious reflection.”[1] While clearly biased by his fondness for Millais and respect for the PRB (Millais’s biography surpasses in length nearly all of the others in the series), Stephens’s text nevertheless serves as a valuable resource for information about the artist’s life and career.

 -Jenifer Norwalk

 

[1] Dianne S. MacLeod, “F. G. Stephens: Pre-Raphaelite Critic and Art Historian,” The Burlington Magazine 128, no. 999 (June 1986): 399.

 

Note

As a longtime friend and admirer, Stephens customarily allowed Millais to review, revise, and approve manuscripts before publication. The biographical sketch in Artists at Home was no exception, as Stephens rather coyly informs the reader in his Athenaeum obituary notice (published without attribution, as all Stephens's articles in that publication were):

The author of "Artists at Home" (Low & Co.), 1884, from whose biography of Millais many of the facts mentioned above have been borrowed, enjoyed the advantage of the President’s revision of his memoir, as well as of his notes and descriptions embodied in the elaborate Catalogue of the Millais Exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886. This writer sums up his estimate of Millais’s character, powers, and career as follows. . . .

[Stephens, F. G.] “Sir John Everett Millais.” The Athenaeum, no. 3590 (August 15, 1896): 232–33.

LM