The Lempriere Family. Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896). 1847. Pen and brown ink on wove paper. 226 x 329 mm (8 15/16 x 12 3/4 inches). Signed lower right: "J E M / 1847." Inscribed v: [secondary and illegible]. Provenance: Mrs. Hesketh, by whom sold at Sotheby's, 27th April 1982, together with a letter stating that the picture was taken to Millais to be signed on 12th June 1885. Alan Gateley, and thence by descent. Bought as part of Lot 702, Rosebery's, 13th September 2011. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Commentary by Paul Crowther
The Lempriere family were originally from Jersey in the Channel islands. In describing his father's early childhood and friends, Millais's son later noted that "Amongst those most anxious to help in the early cultivation of his talent was a charming family named Lempriere, then resident in the island. . . To know them intimately was an education in itself: and, happily for my father, they took a great fancy to him, making him ever welcome at the house. There. . . , he spent much of his time, and, as I have heard him say, learned unconsciously to appreciate the beauties of Nature and Art" (7).
Millais continued to visit the Lemprieres in the 1840s, and did many studies of them often as caricatures or verging on caricature (as in the present work). The scene represented is Twelfth Night, i.e., the evening of January 5th, when it is traditional to have festivities and merry-making (including a large cake). A more finished version of a Twelfth Night scene featuring the Lempriere family was auctioned at Sotheby's on 2nd November 1994. That scene includes two extra figures but is rather formal in its visual address. The present work, in contrast, is more akin to caricature, but in a way that expresses affection and security rather than making fun of the people involved. The key to this is how the quasi-caricature—with its rapid and schematic strokes, evokes a sense of festive animation and activity. This is achieved through an elliptical rhythm of forms that converges on the Mother cutting the cake and the infant's attentiveness to this act. The formal wholeness of the structure has a psychological function also. For insofar, as it is a loose rather than tight unity, there is a sense that the family members relate through friendly belonging rather than through social hierarchy.
Interestingly, the Sotheby's 1994 drawing includes a depiction of Millais himself in the act of drawing the scene. In the present work, there is no such depiction. The implication is that, rather than separate himself out (as an observer making a composition) in this picture he is involved more as a spectator participating in the fun. Through this, the semi-caricature evokes that original welcoming Lempriere milieu where Millais "learned unconsciously to appreciate the beauties of Nature and Art."
You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.
Crowther, Paul. Awakening Beauty: The Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art. Exhibition catalogue. Ljubljana: National Gallery of Slovenia; Galway: Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, 2014. No. 82.
Millais, J. G. The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais. London: Methuen and Co., 1899. Vol. 1.
Last modified 11 December 2014