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John Everett Millais

 

John Everett Millais (1829–1896) belonged to the generation that lived before the Symbolists of the 1890s. He was a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelites, who have been described as Britain’s first modern art movement. His works combine scientific precision with a prolific imagination. In his later works he underlined a more realistic view of the world, rather than fairytale, while never totally abandoning lyricism.

Millais was born in Southampton into a wealthy family, originally from the isle of Jersey. As a boy he displayed a precocious talent for art, winning a silver medal at the Society of Arts in London at the age of nine. He was the youngest ever student admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, which he entered at the age of eleven.

He was a co-founder, in 1848, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. The group believed in truth to nature, but their work also drew on literary and religious themes, and was often heavily reliant on visual symbolism.

The Pre-Raphaelites were championed by the critic John Ruskin, whose wife Effie Gray married Millais in 1855. The couple settled at Bowerswell, Perthshire, and in 1881 Millais rented a sporting estate at Murthly, where he was inspired to produce some of his most atmospheric late landscapes. Millais also established himself as a successful portrait painter and in 1885 he was created a baronet. In 1896, shortly before his death, he was elected President of the Royal Academy in London.