Catalogue entry

Sir John Everett Millais Bt 1829-1896

T03858 Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah ?1850

Oil on mahogany panel 353 x 457 (l3 7/8 x 18)
Inscribed 'JEM' in monogram b.r.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: Commissioned by James Wyatt Sr; thence by descent to the vendor Exh: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Birmingham City Art Gallery, June-July 1947 (47); The Pre-Raphaelites, Whitechapel Art Gallery, April-May 1948 (42); British Portraits, RA, Nov.1956-March 1957(439); Millais, RA, Jan.-March 1967, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, March-April 1967 (21); The Pre-Raphaelites, Tate Gallery, March-May 1984 (29, repr.)
Lit: John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, 1899, I, p.41n; Robin Ironside and John Gere, Pre-Raphaelite Painters, 1948, p.39, pl.46; The Pre-Raphaelites, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1984, pp.81-2, no.29, repr. (entry by Malcolm Warner). Also repr: Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.60 (col.)

Eliza Wyatt, nee Moorman (1813-95) is shown here with her daughter Sarah, later Mrs Thomas (1849-1916). Eliza was the daughter-in-law of James Wyatt (1774-1853), the Oxford collector, art dealer and print publisher. Millais evidently knew Wyatt by 1846 when he painted a watercolour of his grand-daughter Mary (private collection; RA 1967, no.204). Three years later Wyatt bought Millais's painting 'Cymon and Iphigenia' (Coll. Viscount Leverhulme; Tate Gallery 1984, no.10, repr.) and commissioned a portrait of himself with Mary which was shown at the RA in 1850 (private collection; Tate Gallery 1984, no.28, repr. in col.).

T03858 was commissioned as a pendant to the 1849 portrait but the date of the work is uncertain. It may, as Malcolm Warner suggests, have been painted during Millais's long stay in and around Oxford during the summer and autumn of 1850, when he was working primarily on 'The Woodman's Daughter' and 'Mariana'. Millais stayed with the Wyatts at the beginning of this visit, in June, later moving to Botley before returning to stay with the Coombe family in Oxford in September. He did not return to London until November. Sarah Wyatt was born on 17 January 1849 and would have been twenty months or so old by the autumn of the following year. Her apparent age in Millais's portrait makes this dating seem just possible. There are, however, notes in the possession of the sitters' descendants, probably made early in the present century by a son or nephew of Sarah, which give 1853 as the date of the work. The evidence for this date is unknown and there is no record of Millais visiting the Wyatts in Oxford that year. If the portrait was painted in 1853, Sarah would have been four years old, whereas she looks rather younger in Millais's picture.

On the wall behind the sitters are, from left to right, prints after Raphael's 'Madonna della Sedia', Leonardo's 'The Last Supper' and Raphael's 'Alba Madonna'. As Malcolm Warner observed in his 1984 catalogue entry on the picture, Millais uses the idealized figures and flowing compositions of the Raphael madonnas 'to set off the realism and awkwardness of the modern mother-and-child group in front of them'. Warner also notes that a very different sort of portrait of Eliza Wyatt, by Sir William Boxall, is shown hanging on the wall at the top right of the companion portrait of 'James Wyatt and his Grand-daughter': 'With its circular format and curvaceous lines, the Boxall is likened [when the portraits are hung together] to the "Madonna della Sedia". As if painting a kind of Pre-Raphaelite manifesto, Millais spells out the "Raphaelite" nature of recent British art and offers his own style as a corrective'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.75-6