f the three principal members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848 John Millais certainly had the greatest natural facility as a painter. He was born in St. Helier, Jersey. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he met William Holman Hunt, whose ideas about painting Millais found very exciting. Together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hunt and Millais set out to paint with a simplicity and ingenuousness which they took to be the spirit in which mediaeval art was practised. They believed implicitly inaccurate realism and bright colour. Millais particularly used a technique whereby he painted in colour on a wet white ground to achieve greater effects of luminosity. His Pre-Raphaelite picture Christ in the House of His Parents brought upon him a storm of criticism.
His greatest paintings were perhaps his subjectless figurative pictures, The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves, of the mid 1850s. Later he reverted to a more anecdotal style of subject picture and gave way to a tendency to paint winsome children in a style which, while it derives from Velazquez, is still over-sweet and sometimes coy. Millais was a remarkable draughtsman and illustrator; the series of drawings of modern life subjects which he did in 1853-4 reflect the moral crisis in which he found himself when he and Ruskin's wife Effie fell in love.
In his later career Millais gained a great popular reputation and became very rich largely as a result of the lucrative sale of copyrights of his pictures to print publishers. He was made President of the Royal Academy after Leighton's death in 1896, but died the same year.
Newall, Christopher.A Celebration of British and European Painting of the 19th and 20th Centuries.London: Peter Nahum, nd [1999?].
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Last modified 1 August 2001