Sunday, 28 October 2007

John Everett Millais

Today I went to the Tate Britain gallery (that I still call the Tate, even though there have been two in London for quite a while), to see an exhibition on that most popular of Victorian painters, John Everett Millais.

Needless to say it was packed, well, what else is there to do on a rainy Sunday in London? The cast of usual suspects were all present and correct – the gaggle of foreign students, the earnest retired man, the asymmetric hairstyles of the self-consciously arty, and the middle aged artist types with interesting jumpers. Myself and friend Z fell into the normal person category, a rare and canny breed within these hallowed walls.

The Pre-Raphaelites and their associates is my favourite artistic period, and judging from the many people shuffling around the walls, a fair few others think so as well. I guess it is romantic, with subjects taken from mythology and poetry, themes such as unrequited love, and above all lovely dresses. Millais was one of the founders of the PRB, with Holman Hunt and Rossetti, and was considered very anti-establishment, although in later years he became the establishment, finally resulting in presidency of the Royal Academy of Arts. Needless to say, my favourite period of his career is to be found within the PRB, and my favourite piece is Mariana, pictured here.

He was a wonderful artist - he was the youngest person to be accepted to the Royal Academy of Arts at age 11, and to this day still holds that title. Sadly I haven't got an image of the chalk drawing he did aged 11, the one that assured his acceptance into the Academy, but you cannot imagine a child being able to produce that piece of work. He was a genius, fair to say, although his later work did not appeal to me so much... although this could have been because I was thinking fond thoughts of lunch.

Sadly the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood didn't last, although their influences remained through artists such as Burne-Jones and Waterhouse taking up the disgarded gauntlet. This poem by Rossetti's sister Christina says it all...

The P.R.B is in its decadence: –
For Woolner in Australia cooks his chops;
And Hunt is yearning for the land of Cheops;
D.G. Rossetti shuns the vulgar optic;
While William M. Rossetti merely lops
His B.s in English disesteemed as Coptic
Calm Stephens in the twilight smokes his pipe
But long the dawning of his public day;
And he at last, the champion, great Millais
Attaining academic opulence
Winds up his signature with A.R.A.: –
So rivers merge in the perpetual sea,
So luscious fruit must fall when over ripe,
And so the consummated P.R.B.

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