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This painting shows an episode from the childhood of the famous sixteenth-century explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. It remains one of Millais’s most popular pictures. The young Raleigh and his brother are listening with rapt attention to the tales of ‘wonders on sea and land’ told by a ‘sunburnt, stalwart Genoese sailor’.Millais is thus showing us a national hero in the making. The toy ship in the lower left suggests Raleigh’s future adventures at sea. Millais painted the background to the picture on the Devon coast near Exeter, not far from where Raleigh had been born.

July 2007