Sir John Everett Millais Bt. PRA (1829 - 1896)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Sir John Everett Millais was internationally renowned during his lifetime, and his career culminated in his election as President of the Royal Academy in 1896.

As a child, Millais displayed a precocious artistic talent. In 1838 a meeting with Martin Archer Shee, the then President of the Royal Academy, led to Millais enrolling at Henry Sass’s private drawing school in London. In 1840, aged only eleven, he became the youngest artist ever admitted to the Royal Academy Schools. Known to his fellow students as ‘the Child’, Millais won his first RA silver medal in 1843.

While studying at the Royal Academy Schools, Millais and a group of like-minded colleagues including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt established the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the first avant-garde group in the history of British art. The PRB reacted against the prevailing view at the RA, and elsewhere, that Raphael and the later Renaissance tradition represented the artistic ideal. Instead, they drew inspiration from earlier artists including Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer whom they believed to have drawn more directly from nature.

Millais’ early statement of PRB principles, Christ in the House of his Parents, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850. Intended as a realistic corrective to traditional ‘Raphaelite’ depictions of the Holy Family, it met with almost universal disdain - Charles Dickens was amongst its strongest critics, warning his readers that the painting depicted ‘the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting’. Subsequent paintings such as Ophelia and A Hugenot (both exhibited at the RA in 1852) were received more positively, however, and paved the way for Millais’ election as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1853.

By this time the great writer on art John Ruskin had begun championing Millais’ work, and it was while staying with Ruskin in Scotland in 1853 that Millais and Ruskin’s wife Effie Gray fell in love. Ruskin and Gray’s marriage was annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated, leaving her free to marry Millais in 1855.

After their marriage, Millais and Effie lived in Perth for six years, and his art moved away from the tight observation of his earlier work to more generally atmospheric scenes like the one portrayed in Autumn Leaves. In 1861 the family returned to London and Millais was elected a Royal Academician in 1863. By this time Millais had acquired a taste for the Old Masters which ran contrary to his early PRB ideals—his RA diploma work was even titled A Souvenir of Velasquez.

In later years, portraiture became increasingly central to Millais’ practice, while reproductive prints provided a lucrative way of disseminating his work. In 1896, Millais succeeded Frederic Leighton as President of the Royal Academy, although he was seriously ill with cancer of the larynx, and died only six months after his election.


Royal Academician

Born: 8 June 1829 in Southampton, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom

Died: 13 August 1896

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 12 December 1840

Elected ARA: 7 November 1853

Elected RA: 18 December 1863

President from: 1896 - 1896

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting and Illustration

Works by Sir John Everett Millais in the RA Collection

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Works after Sir John Everett Millais in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir John Everett Millais in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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