The Art of the Sublime

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt The North-West Passage 1874

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 'The North-West Passage' 1874
Full screen
Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829–1896
The North-West Passage 1874
Oil paint on canvas
support: 1765 x 2222 mm; frame: 2155 x 2620 x 145 mm
Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894
Tate N01509
The North-West Passage was the unnavigable sea route round North America which was thought to provide a passage to the East. In time, it became synonymous with failure, adversity and death, with men and ships battling against hopeless odds in a frozen wilderness. Millais painted this picture in 1874 when another English expedition was setting off. Previous representations shown had explored the desolate beauty of the terrain with details such as wrecked ships to underline the futility of man’s ambition. Millais encapsulates the risks of such a voyage primarily through the old seaman, with his grim, distant look and clenched fist.

How to cite

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, The North-West Passage 1874, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, January 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/sir-john-everett-millais-bt-the-north-west-passage-r1105592, accessed 26 May 2015.