Millais was the greatest member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the best-known and most successful British painter of the latter half of the nineteenth century, with a reputation across Europe and America. He is strongly represented in the Tate Collection through his special relationship with Henry Tate who purchased several key works for the nation. Millais has long been a popular artist with Tate audiences.

Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, it is particularly timely to look again at Millais. His artistic concerns seem surprisingly contemporary, involving such subjects as psychology, the transience of childhood, masculinity in artistic production and self-presentation, power and identity in portraiture, as well as commercialism and the reproduction of the image in advertising. His work, too, reflects on the Age of Empire, and raises questions about confidence in nationhood.

This exhibition is the first in forty years to explore the entirety of the artist’s career, presenting the full range of Millais’s work, from the defiant realism of his early Pre-Raphaelite paintings to the bravura brushwork of his maturity. Millais emerges as an artist of extraordinary diversity and vitality whose art embraced a wide variety of subjects from inventive historical anecdotes to enigmatic character studies and brilliant society portraits. His magnificent late Scottish landscapes, assembled here as a group for the first time since the nineteenth century, are unique in terms of their scale and expressive energy. Millais is revealed to be as challenging an artist as the nineteenth century produced, then and now.

The exhibition has been curated by Alison Smith and Jason Rosenfeld.

John Everett Millais 1829–1896

John Everett Millais Portrait of the Painter
John Everett Millais
Portrait of the Painter 1880
Oil on canvas

Millais studied at the Royal Academy after his family moved from the Channel Islands to London. He is perhaps best known as a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, formed with contemporaries including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Masterpieces from this period, like Ophelia and Mariana, are included in the exhibition. The critic John Ruskin was an early supporter, but their relationship foundered with Millais’s move away from Pre-Raphaelitism and his marriage to Ruskin’s former wife, Effie. Millais became unchallenged as the leading British painter of the latter part of the nineteenth century, a fact recognised by his appointment as President of the Royal Academy shortly before his death.

Millais’s subject matter embraced history and narrative painting, the ’grand manner‘ of admired predecessors such as Rembrandt or Velázquez, fancy pictures of young children (often from his own growing family), and portraits of leading figures in politics and the arts. In his later years Millais moved easily between London society and Scottish sporting estates, always committed to the accurate representation of the natural world. From his love of the latter came a late flowering of magnificent landscapes which form the climax of this exhibition.