Millais was undoubtedly the most highly skilled among the PRB, and certainly won the most acclaim. His astounding technical dexterity presents itself in The Woodsman's Daughter of 1851. Amongst the landscape of a lush woodland area, Millias depicts a scene from the life of Maud (derived from Patmore's 'The Woodsman's Daughter). The poem, which shifts temporally between different periods of Maud's life, tells of her carefree childhood and the later events in her life which lead to her tragic death. Millais has chosen to depict the early encounter between the son of a wealthy squire and the woodsman's daughter. The boy leans stiffly against a tree, dressed in his finery, and extends an offering of fruit. His expression is stern and wooden, his gaze fixed. In contrast, the girl smiles warmly as she accepts the gift, exuding a simple warmth and innocence. Behind them, the woodsman swings his axe, going about his work, oblivious to to interaction behind him.
1. What symbolic elements in this scene create a sense of foreboding? Do they indicate Maud's tragic future?
2. MIllias frequently positions his figures in an outdoor landscape. How does this painting relate compositionally to Millais's other works? What is the psychological impact on the viewer?
3. Millais painted The Woodsman's Daughter and Ophelia around the same time. The paintings show a technical similarity, especially in the attention to botanical detail, but are there any thematic links between the two?
4. How does Millais enhance the contrast between the two children? What cues are there as to their difference in social standing?
Last modified 2 October 2006