The Pancrastinae, January 1842
Sir John Everett Millais Bt. PRA (1829 - 1896)
RA Collection: Art
Millais has captured in detail the complex pose of the famous sculpture known as The Wrestlers or The Pancrastinae, which he studied from a plaster cast in the RA Schools (03/1514). His intricate shading demonstrates the taut muscles of the idealised classical figures. John Flaxman RA, Professor of Sculpture from 1810 to 1826 had described the sculpture as “the greatest muscular display in violent action”.
As a child, Millais was a prolific and talented sketcher, drawing from life, from imagination and from engravings. His unusually supportive parents were so enthusiastic about his abilities that they moved from Jersey to London so that he could train as an artist. In 1838 Millais began his formal art education at Henry Sass's Academy in Bloomsbury, where he first learned to draw 'from the flat' (in outline) before studying Greek and Roman sculptures and casts in the British Museum.
In December 1840, at the age of 11, he became the youngest ever student to attend the Royal Academy Schools. Like his peers, he first enrolled in the 'Antique' School to perfect his technique of drawing from sculptures and casts. During the 1840s and 50s students at the RA Schools usually carried out drawings from the antique in pencil or chalk on light coloured paper, as several of these examples indicate. Shading was effected using the stump (a tightly rolled piece of paper or leather) to spread the pencil or chalk. William Holman Hunt recalled meeting the young Millais in the British Museum in 1843. Millais told him: 'I like white paper just now. You see I sketch the lines in with charcoal, and when I go over with chalk I rub in the whole with wash leather, take out the lights with bread and work up the shadows till its finished'.
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