John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais’ family was from a small island of British Crown Dependency called Jersey, off of the coast of Normandy, France. Millais’ parents moved to Southampton, where he was born in 1829. Being from a well respected and prominent family, he was afforded a good education, but his talent served him even better. Millais first attended an art school called Sass’s Academy, run by Henry Sass, particularly for students who wanted to gain entrance to the Royal Academy (RA)schools. At the young age of eleven years old he was accepted into the Royal Academy schools based on his artistic talent; the youngest student ever to achieve that honor.
He was successful at his studies and became an illustrator and painter, using the minutest details from nature to capture its beauty. It was while he was studying at the RA that he came to know other artists who had similar ideas and interests concerning new changes in the field of art. Millais, just 19 years old, with his friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, organized a new group which they named the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The first meeting took place in Millais’ family home in September, 1848.
As a young artist he tested the limits of what was conventional, and therefore he started creating highly controversial works. The first of such was his 1850 painting called Christ in the House of His Parents. Millais depicted Joseph, Mary and Christ as a boy in a carpentry workshop, along with John the Baptist and other figures. It is filled with religious symbolism, and yet it was not approved of because it showed the Holy Family as common people or laborers. In 1852 he presented A Huguenot (the original title is much, much longer) which was received with approval for his approach to the theme and the quality of his artwork. It was still controversial because it mixed religion, love and a reminder of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. The theme of lovers’ problems due to religious conflicts was a popular one with the art critics and with the public, and Millais used it often in his paintings.
Millais’ own life story is a long one, full of love stories, family, success - and near scandal. His friend and supporter John Ruskin was married to Effie (Euphemia Chalmers Gray), but it was an unconsummated marriage of several years. When Effie became a model for Millais’ painting, called The Order of Release, the two of them fell in love. A nullification of Ruskin and Effie's marriage ensued, which caused embarrassment, no doubt, to Ruskin. Effie and Millais married and had eight children over the years. An overly friendly relationship with Effie’s unmarried little sister, Sophy Gray, was a cause of much speculation for those people wanting to believe that Millais was fooling around with Sophy. She was his model in many paintings, but it appears to have been an unfounded rumor.
Millais’ successes came in the form of his rise in the Royal Academy and the fact that he was made a baron in 1885, receiving the title of Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet. He was the first artist to ever be given a hereditary title, rather than an award or a knighthood. He was also president of the Royal Academy in 1896, but only for a short time, as he died from having throat cancer in August of that year. As an illustrator, painter and recognized leader of one of the most famous art movements, Millais' grand talent had taken him from childhood to old age with many well-spent years in between.