Millais' Christ In The House Of His Parents (1850) was highly controversial because of its realistic portrayal of a working class Holy Family labouring in a messy carpentry workshop. Later works were also controversial, though less so. Millais achieved popular success with A Huguenot (1852), which depicts a young couple about to be separated because of religious conflicts. He repeated this theme in many later works. All these early works were painted with great attention to detail, often concentrating on the beauty and complexity of the natural world. In paintings such as Ophelia (1852) Millais created dense and elaborate pictorial surfaces based on the integration of naturalistic elements. This approach has been described as a kind of "pictorial eco-system".
This style was promoted by the critic John Ruskin, who had defended the Pre-Raphaelites against their critics. Millais' friendship with Ruskin introduced him to Ruskin's wife Effie. Soon after they met she modelled for his painting The Order of Release. As Millais painted Effie they fell in love. Despite having been married to Ruskin for several years, Effie was still a virgin. Her parents realized something was wrong and she filed for an annulment. In 1855, after her marriage to Ruskin was annulled, Effie and John Millais married. He and Effie eventually had eight children: Everett, born in 1856; George, born in 1857; Effie, born in 1858; Mary, born in 1860; Alice, born in 1862; Geoffroy, born in 1863; John in 1865; and Sophie in 1868. Their youngest son, John Guille Millais, became a notable naturalist and wildlife artist. Effie's younger sister Sophy Gray sat for several pictures by Millais, prompting some speculation about the nature of their apparently fond relationship.
Later works, from the 1870s onwards demonstrate Millais' reverence for old masters such as Joshua Reynolds and Velázquez. Many of these paintings were of an historical theme and were further examples of Millais' talent. Notable among these are: The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower (1878) depicting the Princes in the Tower, The Northwest Passage (1874) and the Boyhood of Raleigh (1871). Such paintings indicate Millais' interest in subjects connected to Britain's history and expanding empire. His last project (1896) was to be a painting entitled The Last Trek. Based on his illustration for his son's book, it depicted a white hunter lying dead in the African veldt, his body contemplated by two Africans.
Millais was elected as an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1853, and was soon elected as a full member of the Academy, in which he was a prominent and active participant. He was granted a baronetcy in 1885, the first artist to be honoured with a hereditary title. After the death of The Lord Leighton in 1896, Millais was elected President of the Royal Academy, but he died later in the same year from throat cancer. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.
When Millais died in 1896, the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII) chaired a memorial committee, which commissioned a statue of the artist. This was installed at the front of the National Gallery of British Art (now Tate Britain) in the garden on the east side in 1905. On 23 November that year, the Pall Mall Gazette called it "a breezy statue, representing the man in the characteristic attitude in which we all knew him".
In 1953, Tate Director, Sir Norman Reid, attempted to have it replaced by Auguste Rodin's John the Baptist, and in 1962 again proposed its removal, calling its presence "positively harmful". His efforts were frustrated by the statue's owner, the Ministry of Works. Ownership was transferred from the Ministry to English Heritage in 1996, and by them in turn to the Tate. In 2000, under Stephen Deuchar's directorship, the statue was removed to the rear of the building.
Millais' relationship with Ruskin and Effie has been the subject of several dramas, beginning with the silent film The Love of John Ruskin from 1912. There have also been stage and radio plays and an opera. The PRB as a whole have been the subjects of two BBC period dramas. The first, entitled The Love School, was shown in 1975, starring Peter Egan as Millais. The second was Desperate Romantics, in which Millais is played by Samuel Barnett. It was first broadcast on BBC 2 Tuesday, 21 July 2009.
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