The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

John Everett Millais, 1829-1896

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1829.06.08
Place of Birth: Southampton, Hampshire
Date of Death: 1896.08.13
Place of Death: London


John Everett Millais' father came from an aristocratic family in Jersey and his mother from the home of a well-to-do saddler. In his youth Millais lived for short periods in Southampton, Jersey and Dinan in Brittany before finally settling in London in 1838. In July 1855 he married Euphemia ('Effie') Ruskin, née Gray, the eldest daughter of George Gray, a Writer to the Signet in Perth, following the annulment of her marriage to the critic John Ruskin in 1854. Together they had eight children.


Millais's artist talent showed itself when he was young. In 1838 he enrolled at Henry Sass' private art school, and in 1840 became the youngest ever student of the Royal Academy Schools. He won a silver medal in 1843 for his drawings from the Antique, in 1846 made his debut at an R. A. exhibition with Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru (V&A), and won a gold medal in 1847 with The Tribe of Benjamin Seizing the Daughters of Shiloh (Private).

At the R. A. Millais became friends with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti with whom he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in September 1848. His first exhibited work as a member of the group, Lorenzo and Isabella (Walker, Liverpool), shows his early debt to medieval sources in its archaic profile poses, lack of perspective, Gothic patterning and symbolism. The following year his exhibited work, Christ in the House of his Parents (Tate), was heavily criticised, most notably by Charles Dickens, for its realistic portrayal of the Holy Family. However, Ophelia in 1852 brought increased public acclaim and Millais was elected ARA in 1853.

In 1853, on a sketching trip with Ruskin to Glenfinlas, Millais fell in love with Effie, Ruskin's wife. Their subsequent affair resulted in the annulment of Ruskin's marriage, which, it was discovered, had never been consummated. Millias and Effie married on 3 July 1855 amidst scandal.

In 1855 Millais experimented with the suppression of narrative in favour of the creation of mood and aesthetic beauty, producing Autumn Leaves (Tate). However, although in this way his work forms an interesting precedent to that to that of the aesthetes, Millais in the 1860s turned to painting popular, sentimental and pretty images of children. In this way Millais went against the original aims of the PRB which sought to combat such insipidity. However, Millais played an important part in the 1850s and 1860s in the success of wood-engraved book and magazine illustration.

His first important commission was for Moxon's 1857 edition of Tennyson. From 1859 onwards he illustrated regularly for Once a Week and from 1860 he famously illustrated a series of Anthony Trollope's novels. His portraits of the 1870s brought him further renown, eg. Thomas Carlyle, 1877.

He admired JW's work when it was exhibited in 1881, and sent JW a generous letter of appreciation (#04078, #09858). Like JW, he was a member of The Arts Club from 1878 until 1896.

He was awarded a baronetcy in 1885 and succeeded Sir Frederic Leighton as President of the Royal Academy in 1896.


Millais, John Guille, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, 2 vols, London, 1899; Baldry, Alfred Lys, Sir John Everett Millais: His Art and Influence, London, 1899; Records of The Arts Club, London; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Maas, Jeremy, The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984; Mancoff, Debra N., John Everett Millais: Beyond the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, New Haven and London, 2001; Warner, Malcolm, 'John Everett Millais', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 15 February 2002).