Photo of J.E. Millais and John Bright, 1880 det. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft, Jr. Manuscript Collection, Delaware Museum of Art
John Everett Millais
Date: English painter, 1829–1896
Biography: John Everett Millais was born in Southampton and spent most of his childhood on the Channel Islands in St. Helier, Jersey, before his obvious artistic abilities necessitated a trip to London. Following an introduction to the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Martin Archer Shee, he was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1840 and continued his education there for six years. After meeting William Holman Hunt, the two men and five others formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first exhibiting their work with the initials P.R.B. at the Royal Academy in 1849. Millais's Lorenzo and Isabella (1849, National Museums Liverpool) was hung "on the line" (a sign of the jury's approbation) and received positive reviews in the press. The following year, however, a furor over the "P. R.B." initials provoked severe criticism of Millais and Hunt, a situation remedied only with the aid of John Ruskin and his supportive letter to the London Times in 1851.

Millais's reputation recovered more quickly than did that of his fellow Pre-Raphaelites. His Royal Academy entry of 1852, A Huguenot (private collection), was extremely popular, and he continued to receive positive press in the years that followed.

In the summer of 1853 Millais and his brother William traveled with John Ruskin and his young wife Euphemia (Effie) to Glenfinlas, Scotland, on a painting expedition. During their sojourn Millais and Effie fell in love, and in the following year she left Ruskin and was granted an annulment. In 1855 she and Millais were married, thus bringing an end to the relationship between the two men.

Millais's painting style moved increasingly further away from the original aims of the Brotherhood and toward a looser brushstroke and less challenging subject matter. Election to the Royal Academy in 1863 exemplified his stylistic shift toward the establishment. By the 1870s, Millais was firmly committed to painting society portraits (William Gladstone [1879], National Portrait Gallery, London; Benjamin Disraeli [1881], National Portrait Gallery, London) and popular subjects (Hearts are Trumps [1872], Tate, London; (Cherry Ripe [1879], private collection). The security of his position in the establishment was cemented with the bestowal of a baronetcy in 1885.

A series of landscapes painted during the 1890s is quite different in style and feeling from his more popular work. Millais played a significant role in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery in 1889. At this time his health began to decline on account of advancing throat cancer. Finally elected President of the Royal Academy in February 1896, he died only a few months later.

From "Biography of John Everett Millais (1829-1896)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 364.