Saturday, August 18, 2012

Millais, John Everett

Portrait of Sophie Gray
oil on mounted paper
30.5 x 20.3 cm (12 x 8 in.)
Jean Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA

This hypnotic, close-up study, tinged with melancholy, portrays Millais's much younger sister-in-law Sophie at Fourteen. Her intense gaze, both vulnerable and defiant, flushed cheeks, full lips, and cascading auburn locks powerfully suggest the awakening of female sexuality and desire, a theme more conventionally symbolized in the embroidered heart filled with flowers that emblazons her chest.

Sir John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896) was born in Southampton, England. His family was of French descent. In 1838 he attended Henry Sass' Drawing School and the Royal Academy in 1840. While still a youth, he won various medals for his drawings. With Rossetti and Hunt, he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Ophelia,  exhibited in 1852 at the Royal Academy, marks the culmination of Millais' youthful period.

Endowed with a virtuoso technical skill, he rapidly outstripped his colleagues and won lasting fame. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy and served as President in 1896. Millais' works never failed to elicit praise. His remarkable technique lent his canvases a unique distinction, particularly in his last paintings, long after the exhilaration of the radiant Pre-Raphaelite period had died away. Towards the end of his life, he turned to portraiture. He was also a fine illustrator.