'Scotland is like a wet pebble, with the colours brought out by the rain'

Millais

Millais’s affection for the Highlands of Perthshire was most brilliantly expressed in a series of twenty-one large-scale landscapes that he painted outdoors from 1870 to 1892. Twelve are displayed here, the largest ever gathering. He would spend autumns in leased accommodation near Dunkeld and Birnam.

The landscapes he painted there represent a kind of respite from the demands of art and society in London, the same kind of escape that hunting and fishing throughout Scotland would also provide. The results are works that access the picturesque traditions of landscape and the English examples of Constable and Turner, only to reject them through level tones, broad expanses, rushing perspective, a bleak beauty usually absent of history and, in many cases, of human presence. For Millais, autumn was a distinctive time, particularly vivid and teeming with life. These paintings represent new approaches to landscape: through poetic references, novel compositions, celebrations of autumnal scenery and light, and unresolved narratives.

The Sound of Many Waters

The resounding title comes from Cardinal Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius. Millais painted this broad and rocky expanse of the River Braan instead of the nearby more picturesque waterfall by the Rumbling Brig. He worked in rain and snow from a temporary hut on the bank. In this mature work he effectively conveyed the features of volcanic rock without the meticulousness of Pre-Raphaelitism. The result is a masterpiece of observation and large-scale ambition.

Rumbling Brig, November 9th 1876

Dearest Mary,

I fear that, after all, I shall have to give my work up and finish it next year, as there is nothing but snow over all, and I have a cold as well, which makes it positively dangerous to paint out in such weather as this. However, we will see what tomorrow brings. It is dreadfully dull here when there is nothing to do. I have been in my hut this morning, and I hoped a blink of sun would thaw sufficiently the snow on the foreground rocks to enable me to get on, but the storm is on again, and it is simply ridiculous trying to work, as everything is hidden with a white sheet…

Your affectionate father,

J.E. Millais

Letter from Millais to his daughter Mary, written near Dunkeld, Perthshire, during the painting of The Sound of Many Waters