This time I’m going to show you something from the 19th century. Although the Archive mostly collects material from 1900 onwards, we do have some older items, sometimes because they are particularly significant or have a particular link to Tate’s collection. In this case, the letter you see is from John Everett Millais, one of the central members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and it is about a work in Tate’s collection. Writing on 6 May 1878 to his half-brother, Henry Hodgkinson, who had bought his painting ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ a year before, he says: I am sure no one will be more delighted than you to hear that my success at Paris is immense. I am hearing on all sides that there is a profound recognition of my work there, and a letter from the secretary informs me this morning that they place the Yeoman the first - this is the decision of all the best artists of France whose names he mentions so you see my advice to you was correct and you showed sound sense & luck in buying it. The day will come when the National Gallery won’t stick at any price to obtain it, and you will get 200 percent for the outlay. I have never had anything which has given me such satisfaction as this French recognition - we are fools here in judgement in comparison with our neighbours across the Channel.
Along with the letter we also have the cheque with which Hodgkinson paid for the painting, made out for £1000 (about £48,000 in today’s money).
To my mind, the letter and cheque are interesting for what they tell us about the history of the painting, but also for what we see of Millais’s attitude to his own work. ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ was one of his own favourites, and was very popular with the public as well as the committee of the Paris Exhibition. His pride in the painting is evident, and his pleasure in its success - and is there a grudge here against the reception of his work in England? However, it’s also a very practical letter, showing the same concern for art as a financial investment we love to complain about today. Though in the end, Hodkinson didn’t realise his 200% profit - the painting was bequeathed to Tate by Mrs Hodgkinson in 1897. Do you think that the art work in this century represents value for money?
Written by Emily Down