Tate Britain Linbury Galleries
26 September 2007 – 13 January 2008
John Everett Millais (1829–1896) was the greatest painter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Perhaps best known for his iconic painting Ophelia 1851–52 (Tate), Millais was the most successful painter in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century with a reputation across Europe and America. He spearheaded the most radically modern artistic group in the history of English art with fellow Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Millais at Tate Britain will be the first major monographic survey of his art since the Royal Academy retrospective of 1967, and the first exhibition since 1898 to examine the entirety of the artist’s career.
Traditionally, Millais has been presented as an establishment figure who swapped artistic innovation for commercial gain. For the first time, this exhibition allows us to see Millais in the context of his whole career, from his beginnings as the youngest ever pupil at the Royal Academy to his late landscapes. Millais will reveal a complex and innovative artist whose work encompassed every genre. He was as interested in Realism as Aestheticism, and as much engaged with modern developments in art as he was with the Old Masters. This exhibition will explore his modern approach to the dynamics of human relationships and his portrayal of women as strong individuals. It will also argue that his late works are as dramatic in their freshness of vision as those of his Pre-Raphaelite period.
Millais will bring together many significant loans from around the world including Blow, blow thou winter wind 1892 (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki), The Ransom 1860–2 (Getty Collection, Los Angeles), and works from private collections which have not been exhibited in public for many years, such as Christmas Eve 1887 and Sophie Gray 1857. The exhibition will include around 140 paintings and works on paper. From Millais’s popular nostalgic fancy pictures such as Bubbles 1885-6 (Unilever) through to a magnificent survey of his great Scottish landscapes – twelve of which will be shown here, the largest grouping since 1898.
Displayed chronologically the exhibition follows the development of Millais’s practice from Old Master conventions through to ‘primitivising’ works such as Isabella1849 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), in which he deliberately rejected contrived compositional devices. It will examine paintings from Millais’s mature Pre-Raphaelite phase and also present his pioneering role in the Aesthetic movement which focussed on a new subjectless type of painting based on mood above narrative and moral meaning. A series of portraits including Portrait of Henry Irving, 1883 (The Garrick Club) will show how Millais negotiated a prominent position in British society, while a recreation of his studio at Palace Gate - used from 1877 until his death in 1896 – will convey how his working environment helped to establish his social status.
The exhibition is curated by Alison Smith, Curator, Tate Britain, and Jason Rosenfeld, Associate Professor at Marymount Manhattan College, New York. They are undertaking new research for the exhibition catalogue and to complement existing scholarship in the area. Millais will tour to the Van GoghMuseum, Amsterdam (15 February – 13 May 2008), Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Kitakyushu, Japan (7 June – 17 August 2008) and Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan (30 August – 26 October 2008)