"It is his gift of reflecting like a mirror the very life of his surroundings that constitutes his essential distinction among artists of his time. . . .
For a period of nearly fifty years Millais was before the public as an artist, and for the greater part of that time he has sustained his reputation as the greatest painter of his day. He has painted history, romance, poetry, landscape, portrait and has made his mark in each. No one else has attempted so wide a range of subjects, few have shown greater variety of invention or approached him in his command over tools and material."
"Millais, as an artist, was essentially of his age. He lived and worked with a keen sense of all that was around him. He was a modern of the moderns, owing less than any painter I know to those who had gone before or to those who were contemporary. He loved sport, he enjoyed all sorts of games. To the last he was a joyous and enjoying companion. And all these qualities we find in his pictures, realized through his vivid perceptive qualities and rendered as Nature has never before been rendered by his transcendental powers as a painter. His nature was as his art—joyous, bubbling with life, incapable of meanness, a boy till the last, yet a man of the greatest power. No painter excelled in so many branches of art, no one has been more loved or so regretted by his contemporaries."
|John Guille Millais|
In England, in the middle of the present century, there were all sorts of revolutions going on in religion and politics. The art of painting also came in for its share in the general upheaval and change. Reynolds and Gainsborough had run their glorious careers and British painting, in the hands of lesser men, was very evidently on the decline. Thoughtful men were aware of this and studied carefully to discover the causes of the condition. To one small coterie the reason was patent and this is what they analyzed it to be: That the painters of the day copied in a slavish way the grand masters of Italian art and forgot to study nature spread out all about them. The conditions for which the great Italians had painted had passed away and so copying them had no connection with the times in which nineteenth century painters were working. The whole demand of this new school of painters was for greater simplicity, more directness to be derived from a minute study of nature.
They claimed that the great painters of Italy before Raphael were models in this matter of simplicity and that with Raphael began that extreme attention to form which, while it produced wonderful work in the hands of that master, was destined, under his successors, to cause the downfall of painting.
This new school consequently called themselves Pre-Raphaelites. They further added to their name Brotherhood, perhaps from the fact that they knew that they would meet strong opposition and that they would need to stand together united like brothers in one family to carry to recognition the principles for which they stood. Then appeared in British art annals the mystical initials, P. R. B., which were the symbol for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Henceforth these three letters were the handle to the gridiron on which warlike critics roasted any artist intrepid enough to inscribe them on his pictures.
The two men who first took upon themselves the opprobrium of these mystic letters, who, in other words, were the founders of this new school of art, were Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, both of whom to-day are looked upon as among the greatest of the famous men that are Britain's proudest possession, notwithstanding the great expanse of her material dominions.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was of their number for a time, and Ford Maddox Brown, but Rossetti went back to his writings for which his predilections were greater and Maddox Brown gradually dropped away. In consequence the main part of the contest was borne by Hunt and Millais. When the critics were raging at their worst and without the knowledge of the young painters, a mighty champion of their cause was rising in the person of John Ruskin, England's and perhaps the world's greatest art critic, if we judge by the thoroughness of his research and by the power of his literary style.
Many put Ruskin as the originator of this new order of things in painting, but the truth is that only after the pictures of Millais and Hunt began to appear in public did he come forward, and by praising their strong new points, make himself their eloquent advocate.
As a distinct school of painting the Pre-Raphaelites have years ago passed into history and the mystic P. R. B. had not appeared on a picture for several decades. The best part however of the doctrines they fought for has become an essential element not only in British painting, but in all painting, for truth to nature, to the real thing portrayed, is an absolutely required quality in paintings today.
It is to John Everett Millais, the greatest of this group of English artists that we are to turn our attention in the present sketch. It will be interesting matter too, the consideration of his frank, manly character, of his steady rise in his art and, above all, of his beautiful pictures in which there is such variety of subject, such truthfulness of detail, such sympathy with every day life.
The island of Jersey, the southernmost of the Channel Islands, was the place from which the Millais family hailed. Only sixteen miles from the Normandy coast, while more than a hundred from England to which it now belongs, it is little wonder that there is more of France than of Britain in its people and customs. In like manner too we can account for the French flavor in the name of our artist. The little island has always had a thrifty population of small freeholders, and at each time of persecution in France this has been largely re-enforced by refugees from that country. Notably was this so when the fury of the Catholics was directed against the Huguenots. It is possible that tales regarding some of these refugees listened to by Millais in his childhood may account for that fine picture of his in which he so exquisitely represented the parting of a Huguenot from his sweetheart.
The Millais family has been known in the island of Jersey since the time of William the Conqueror and through this long interval they have been more or less prominent in its affairs. John William Millais, the father of the artist, held a position in the militia for many years. As we read of him, we wish we might have known him intimately. He had the reputation of being the handsomest man in the island, of being sweet-tempered and jolly to the verge of total lack of ambition for himself. He was fond of music, and like an old Troubadour, whom he strongly resembled, he could turn to any one of half a dozen musical instruments and bring from them pleasing and solacing strains.
He had married a widow, Mrs. Hodgkinson, and on the island Mary, their eldest child, was born. The family moved to Southampton later and here the two boys, William and his younger brother, John Everett, were born. The family returned to St. Heliers, on the island of Jersey, and the two boys had four years of life most pleasing to children. John in particular was fond of natural history and along the coast, with its miniature bays, were found all sorts of specimens to please his fancy. In the little inland valleys, butterflies and birds were studied and minutely drawn and colored, for even at the tender age of four our artist amused himself continually with the pencil.
From St. Heliers the Millais moved to Dinan near the coast of Brittany, where they resided for two years. It was a romantic place with its medieval architecture and its proximity to the sea. The boys were entertained, too, by watching the soldiers moving back and forth to their barracks. "Johnnie," as the family called him, even after he became known to the world, with surprising skill one day drew the drum major in all the gorgeousness of his gold bedecked uniform. Two officers noticing his occupation, stole up to him and begged the sketch to show to their men. When it was exhibited none would believe that such work could be done by a boy of six. In their interest they laid wagers and the two officers set off to bring the little artist. He appeared even more diminutive in the presence of the great burly soldiers and at once confirmed his authorship of the drawing by sketching offhand a remarkable likeness of the colonel smoking a cigar. The two men took the child off to his parents and, in their praise of his effort, urged them to take him to Paris where he could study the art for which he was evidently destined.
After two years the family was back at St. Heliers, where Johnnie had his first lessons in art. Here, too, began his general education which was of the most general character for a man who in later life became so famous. He was an exceedingly delicate child and after two days in school it was given up as unsuited to so weak a physique. His mother became his teacher and so attractive did she make his tasks, so successful was she in infusing her own culture into her gifted boy that in after years he was accustomed to say, "I owe all that I am to my mother." He had no other general schooling except that which came from this strong, cultivated woman.
His earliest masters in drawing, one of whom was the peculiar Mr. Sass, very soon confessed that they could teach the boy no more. It was while at Mr. Sass's school that he took the silver medal offered by the Society of Arts. In this contest he had beaten the "bully" of the school who had tried for the same prize. The latter was furious that he should be outstripped by a child and he took cruel revenge. A few days after the distribution of prizes he hung the young Millais, head downward, out of an upstairs window. He was left in this position until he was unconscious and, but for the timely notice of a passer-by, we should never have had the man Millais, for death must have ensued shortly had the child not been relieved.
At the age of ten he entered the Royal Academy as a regular pupil, the youngest student that ever entered its doors as such. Here he was nicknamed "The Boy" and became a great favorite with the older students. When he took prizes, as he did even in these early years, he was so small that he often went up to claim his honors on the shoulder of some big boy. His work in the Academy showed all the marks of genius, but at home he was very much like the ordinary boy in his sports both indoors and out. He was fond of cricket, fishing and boating and to the vigorous part he took in these recreations is undoubtedly due that stalwart health of his mature years even after a childhood of unusual delicacy.
One form of indoor amusement we notice with interest. He and his brother were very fond of playing National Gallery, and they did it with an intelligence that was both remarkable and prophetic. Of course they had visited over and over again the great gallery on Trafalgar Square, but it certainly was very unusual for two boys of their ages to know the pictures and their arrangement almost by heart. They painted small cards to represent Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner, Ruysdael and a host of others and then arranged them in their mimic rooms as nearly as possible like those of the National Gallery. Sometimes they worked long before they could obtain a desired effect like some masterpiece and great was their rejoicing when at last the sought for effect was produced. This certainly was ideal amusement for two boys who in the future would please the world, the one as a master of water color and the other as a magician almost in the use of oils.
His vacations were varied by short trips to the country and he grew strong in body even as he progressed at the Academy. He often visited a half brother in Oxford and here he made several valuable acquaintances. We cannot help referring to one in particular, a Mr. Wyatt, who became deeply attached to the boy artist and often invited him to his house. In the room which he occupied are still to be seen on the window two sketches in oils which were made by Millais. So interested in drawing was the young artist at this time that he could not refrain from using his pencil during meal time and he was often checked by the kindly voice of his host saying, "Take a piece of paper, Johnny. Take a piece of paper. We cannot have the table-cloth spoiled."
In 1845, Millais, who, it must be remembered, was a poor boy, found occupation with a certain Ralph Thomas, who traded in works of art. He bound himself for two years to go every Saturday morning to the house of Mr. Thomas and copy pictures or paint in backgrounds. For this work he was to receive one hundred pounds per year. Thomas was a hard master and insolent to the youth besides. One morning, long before his two years were up, the lad, infuriated by some insulting remark of Thomas, flung his palette, newly furnished with colors, at the head of his patron and thus terminated the contract in a summary manner. The first check Millais ever received for work came from Thomas. It was for the sum of five pounds and so delighted was the young artist with it that he endorsed it with a pen and ink sketch of himself at his easel. This check is in existence now in the hands of an admirer and owner of some of Millais' early work.
The years were creeping on even with Millais who had got such an early start in his life work. That friendship which was to last through life was formed in their early years between Millais and Hunt. Millais' first finished pictures were distinctly marked with all the Pre-Raphaelite characteristics. Of these "Christ in the Home of His Parents" is perhaps the best known. At all events it is the one that made the critics wild and let loose as it were, their fountains of abuse. It represents the interior of a carpenter's shop in which are Joseph, Mary, an apprentice, John the Baptist, Anne, and the Christ Child, evidently a boy of about nine years. He has cut the palm of his hand with an offending tool which Anne, with grandmotherly care, draws away while Joseph and Mary bestow tender attention on the wounded hand. Through the open window a flock of sheep are seen near at hand while all the details of the shop—shavings, tools and bench are minutely worked out. It is true that the picture lacks much of the ideal beauty with which the Italians would have treated the subject, if indeed they ever would have selected it at all, but the simplicity and truthfulness of the scene draws us to it in spite of the plainness of the Virgin and some of the accessories.
Of the same class were the pictures of "Ferdinand" and "The Woodman's Daughter." The former was an illustration of that part of Shakespeare's Tempest where Ariel is whispering in the ear of Ferdinand and the latter is a realistic scene in which a boy nobleman presents a little peasant girl who has accompanied her father, a wood-chopper, with four luscious strawberries. This also is an illustration, as the subject was drawn from some verses by Coventry Patmore. It is really a very attractive picture, with its exquisite background of woods, with just a patch of sky visible through the trees, and the sweet and naive expression of the girl as she accepts the gift, not of a nobleman to a peasant, but of one child to another. The beautiful background is a real bit of scenery near Oxford and the berries too are from the real article, as Millais realized to the full when he paid five shillings for them at Covent Garden Market in the month of March. He tells us that after he painted them he and his friend, Charley Collins, ate them with thankful hearts. This is an illustration of the pains Millais invariably took in order to have the real thing before his eyes while painting.
Later we shall find him walking miles to study a bit of background and sitting whole days in the wind and cold to paint in the presence of the thing he wished to represent. For the figures in his pictures he constantly pressed into service his friends, and the members of his own family as well as hired models. Of one thing we can be certain in Millais' pictures—every figure is a portrait and every detail in background and foreground true to history or nature, whichever is represented.
Millais now began his "Ophelia" and he was evidently thinking of "The Huguenot" which was destined to be one of his greatest and best loved pictures. "Ophelia" was painted to illustrate that part of Shakespeare's Hamlet where Ophelia, upheld by the buoyancy of her garments, floats for a short time on the surface of the brook into which, in her madness, she has flung herself. In those few moments before her wet clothes draw her under the water, she sings her death song, "like the swan," while the flowers gathered by the distracted maiden float out on the surface of the brook making even the death-dealing waters beautiful. We have praised the setting of "The Woodman's Daughter." Quite as much can be said of the banks of the stream where Ophelia floats to her death—the willow, the wild exuberance of the flowering shrubs, the arrow-like leaves of the iris. So perfect was the representation of the vegetation on the banks of the brook that one stormy morning a visit to the picture was substituted for the usual trip to the woods by a class studying botany in a school near by.
Knowing how Millais insisted on having a model for everything he painted, we naturally wonder how he arranged in this figure of Ophelia floating in the water. Miss Siddal, afterwards the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, served the artist on this occasion and came near losing her life as a result of the accidental chilling of the water. It was arranged to maintain the even temperature of the water in a large bath tub by means of lamps set underneath. One day the artist became so absorbed in his work that he did not notice that the lamps had gone out and before Miss Siddal realized it, she was chilled through and a severe illness followed. Millais did all he could to make up for his carelessness by paying the doctor's bill and by various other attentions.
I wonder how often, as we enjoy this or other great pictures, it ever comes to us what pains the painting of the picture cost both the artist and his model. "Ophelia" was a wonderful success when it was exhibited and it was highly praised even by those who had formerly criticised the artist's work severely. While Millais was at work on "Ophelia" his friend and companion, Holman Hunt, was engaged on that great picture of the Pre-Raphaelites, "The Light of the World."
For a long time Millais' mind had been intent on a subject in which a Huguenot lover should be separating from his sweetheart. His ideas of just how to represent this subject when through many changes as is indicated by several little black and white sketches which we have. Finally he decided on the arrangement which we have in his wonderful picture of that name. Meyerbeer's opera, bearing the same title, perhaps helped to make Millais' notions of costume more definite but it did not suggest the subject to him, as some have said.
Let us study the picture carefully. Here is the fine fellow, the Huguenot, painted from an old friend he had known in Jersey. The sweetheart is tying the white scarf about his arm which will save him from massacre, for the scene is supposed to take place just before the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. The white scarf was the badge by which those bent on murder would know Catholics from Huguenots. Doubtless many of the latter shielded themselves from violence by wearing this same badge but the Huguenot here represented was evidently not of that sort, for he gently but firmly draws it from his arm in spite of the pleading face of her who fain would save him from the threatened danger.
Probably thousands have loved this picture who never have given even a passing thought to the ivy-covered wall in the back or the exquisite flowers on either side. Yet on these details Millais spent days and days of most painstaking work. When the picture was exhibited it was next to impossible to get near it, so dense was the crowd that gathered about it. With this painting the artist's permanent success was assured, whatever theories he held regarding painting as a branch of the fine arts.
Two other pictures, somewhat similar in arrangement, he painted some time afterward, "The Order of Release" and "The Black Brunswicker," which are justly among his most popular works. In "The Order of Release" we have an admirable group. A young woman with a lovely sleeping child in her arms stands within a cell beside her imprisoned husband who, in the depth of his emotion, hides his face in her shoulder while she hands out to the scarlet-coated turnkey the letter which is the order for her husband's release. A collie joyfully greets his master, who has long been absent and a beautiful dog he is, but the best thing in the picture is the strong, sweet, triumphant look on the face of the woman. In his picture Millais did for his heroine all that Scott did for Effie Deans in the inimitable romance, "The Heart of Midlothian." The sentiment of the picture as well as the style in which it was painted seemed to please everyone and so it ranks high among the artist's works. When it was hung on the Academy walls it required a policeman to keep the crowd from becoming too dense, the first picture that ever required such attention. It was painted in 1853, and readily sold for four hundred pounds. The last time it changed hands it brought its owner what is equivalent to twenty-five thousand dollars of our money. It was successfully engraved and copies of it went far and wide.
In the same year the artist was made an associate in the Royal Academy, an honor which he warmly coveted. The year was further marked by his friend Hunt's departure for Egypt and the East for an extended sojourn. The letters he wrote to Millais during his absence are extremely interesting not only as setting forth his experiences in those strange countries but as showing the deep love which existed between these two artists.
"The Blind Girl," "The Random Shot" and "The Rescue" are remarkable pictures of the interval before "The Black Brunswicker" appeared. The first of these is chiefly notable for the fine landscape background, spanned by a double rainbow, which the blind girl in the foreground can feel rather than see owing to her sympathetic companion who turns and scans the splendid vision. In "The Random Shot" a dear little girl lies curled up asleep under her father's military coat on one of the most superb mediaeval tombs that one can imagine. It shows an incident in the French Revolution when the child of a soldier who was guarding the church was accidentally shot by the mob outside.
"The Rescue" represents a noble fireman restoring three little children at once to their frantic, but now rejoicing, mother, while the devastating flames light up the scene. It is said that one evening as the artist was returning home with a friend he watched a great fire and became deeply interested in the work of two firemen who were lost in the flames before his eyes by the sudden giving way of a rafter on which they were walking. When he reached home his mind was made up as to what would be his next subject—it would be the glorification of that faithful body of men who do their duty quietly and unflinchingly in the face of great physical danger. Millais was deeply impressed with the heroism so often exhibited by firemen and he gave the world a picture in which, as Ruskin expressed it, "the immortal element is present to the full."
Millais was a hard worker but he insisted on his vacation every year as something absolutely necessary. In his vacation rambles he often made valuable new acquaintances and cultivated more thoroughly those already acquired. In one place we find him spending delightful days with Thackeray, in another he is enjoying the geniality of Leech the great Punch illustrator, and again it is the great Dickens or Wilkie Collins who is his companion. The kindly Leech, the lovable Thackeray and the magnetic Dickens he saw buried, and he mingled his tears with those of a large circle who knew that the like of these great souls would not be seen again in England. With Leech in particular he enjoyed many a good fox hunt, in which sport he became much interested and a daring and skilful rider. This together with salmon fishing were the recreations that satisfied our artist most thoroughly.
In 1855, Millais was married to Euphemia Chalmers Gray, daughter of Mr. George Gray, who lived at Bowerswell, Perth. For a good part of each year the artist and his family lived in the same vicinity so that it is with Perthshire and the river Tay that we associate the artist in his holiday seasons in Scotland. A lovelier and more inspiring region could hardly be imagined than this great central county of Scotland and to its resources Millais owes much of the pleasure that marked his long life.
Mrs. Millais was very helpful to her husband. She relieved him of the great burden of his correspondence, arranged interviews with him by friends and others who, in his later years, amounted to a great throng. She was naturally fond of art and a good student and many a time she studied up details of costume, furniture and arms to assist her husband in his work. Occasionally, too, she showed a fine hand in managing her illustrious lord. One time when he was painting "Apple Blossoms" there were certain portions which he could not paint to his satisfaction. Indeed so often did he erase and fill in that he lost all patience and became very irritable. After offering various suggestions without avail, Mrs. Millais decided to steal the picture while he was at dinner. This she did and locked it up securely for several days. In the interval the artist scolded a good deal at the loss of his picture and busied himself with other work. His mind becoming settled, "Apple Blossoms" was brought from its hiding place. His refreshed eye saw at once what was wrong and his ready hand set it right at the first trial.
Three sons and four daughters were born to Mr. and Mrs. Millais and they with their parents made up a happy, united family. Most of them are really well known to us through the artist's most popular pictures, for he used his children over and over again as models, which occupation, I am sorry to say, they found very irksome at times.
In 1860, "The Black Brunswicker" was finished. After the success of "The Huguenot," another picture on something the same plan was eagerly anticipated by the public. People were, however, somewhat disappointed, for the picture, though great, was not more beautiful, and to eyes that for years had doted on "The Huguenot," it did not seem so fine. The Brunswickers were composed of the best men of Germany and made up what was known as the Brunswick Cavalry at Waterloo. They wore a black uniform, faced with light blue, ornamented with a skull and cross bones. They adopted this uniform as a mourning habit, and bound themselves to wear it until they had avenged the death of their late ruler. They gave no quarter and would receive none. They were nearly annihilated in the great battle but their valorous deeds were notable. The picture represents the parting of a Brunswicker from his ladylove in somewhat the same attitude as are the figures in "The Huguenot." A common soldier dressed in the required uniform was the model for the Brunswicker, and Miss Kate Dickens posed for the woman. The picture was sold to Gambart, the picture dealer, for a thousand guineas. Years afterward, when the University of Oxford conferred the honorary title of D. C. L. on the artist, just at the most solemn moment, a mischievous rollicker let down from the gallery a pot of Brunswick blacking directly in front of the artist in allusion, of course, to the well-known picture.
In 1855, when on his wedding journey in the west of Scotland, Millais was very much attracted by some ruins of a monastery on an island in one of the lakes. He and his wife amused themselves with imagining the picturesqueness of the scene when the place was inhabited, and then and there the artist decided to paint a picture in which nuns should be the central figures. Later the subject developed as we see it in "The Vale of Rest," the name selected from Mendelssohn's song,
"The Vale of Rest
Where the weary find repose."
The scene is a lovely, quiet churchyard with the ivy-covered end of the chapel in sight and tall poplars just over the wall. Two nuns are the only living occupants of the place, one sitting on a grave-stone, deep in contemplation while the other, with arduous toil, digs her own grave. The perfect quiet of the place is in itself restful, and a charming light adds to this effect. As one gazes on the scene he feels that here indeed the artist has depicted perfectly that vale where each and all shall find their long rest.
Another notable picture of about his time is "The Eve of St. Agnes." It illustrates these lines from the poem of the same name by Keats—
"Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice."
As usual, Millais was very particular about his background for the picture. The artist's wife posed for the figure and, finding an old house that had not been changed since the time of James I., they both began what was serious work for them. The weather was cold and with no fire in the room their sufferings were intense, Mrs. Millais in her thin clothing and the artist in trying to make his fingers work in the frigid temperature. The picture, however, shows none of the chilliness they suffered and it is in perfect keeping with the beautiful lines it illustrates.
In 1863, "My First Sermon" was exhibited, and two years later the companion piece "My Second Sermon." They are both portraits of the artist's daughter, Effie, then a child of five. In the first she is attentive while in the second she has lost her hold on mortal things and is fast asleep. Then follow those other lovely child pictures "Sleeping," "Waking," and "The Minuet." They were portraits of his three daughters, Mary, Carrie and Effie not in the least idealized. In the "Waking" and "Sleeping" the child is in each case in her little bed and it was only under protest that the little sitters went from their bed in the nursery to that in their father's great studio. To them it mattered not that the pictures for which they posed would be prized by all the world.
Right here we may speak in general of Millais' pictures of children. He was all his life very fond of little folks and he knew to perfection the art of getting on with them. Sir Joshua Reynolds himself has not given us more lovely children than we have from Millais' brush. "Cherry Ripe" enjoyed from its first appearance great popularity and, through excellent engravings, it was spread over the English speaking world. The artist received all sorts of commendatory letters regarding this lovely child picture. Two paintings of historical children are well known and among our prime favorites. They are "The Princes in the Tower" and "The Princess Elizabeth." The former shows us those two young and blameless victims of Richard III.'s cruelty who, simply because they stood in his way to the throne of England, were smothered in London's darkly frowning Tower. As usual they were real children, those who posed for the picture. They were the sons of a former model of Millais', who sought him out and offered her children as models if he cared to make use of them.
"The Princess Elizabeth" is quite as touching and beautiful though perhaps not so well known. Here we see the little daughter of Charles I. who spent half of her short life of fifteen years in prison, and then died rather from languor than from disease. She is exquisite as she sits beside the table penning a letter to the Parliamentary Commission begging that her beloved servants be not taken from her and that she be allowed to join her sister. The wonderful wardrobe at the back was once the property of Charles I., and it was at some pains that Millais got access to it in order to paint it.
The list of Millais' pictures of children is a long one, and cannot be completed here. We are loth to close, however, without mentioning "Bubbles" and "Lilacs," both very beautiful and the former well known from its extensive use as an advertisement for Pear's soap. The lovely child here represented was Millais' grandson.
To the later part of the artist's career belong two very beautiful illustrations for Scott's novels, "Effie Deans" and "The Bride of Lammermoor." They were painted in 1877, and have been justly popular since.
Sometimes our artist undertook landscape for its own sake and made pictures that are classics of their kind. "In Chill October" comes to our minds as an illustration of this style of subject.
In portraiture, both of men and women, he was eminently successful and many renowned people occupied the dais in his great studio at Palace Gate where he built his fine residence after his success was fully assured.
Hither came the grand Gladstone, who was an entertaining sitter, talking freely all through his sittings to the artist. He said afterwards that Millais required fewer sittings than any other painter to whom he had sat. Tennyson, with the bearing of the seer that he was, John Bright, Disraeli, Carlyle, and Cardinal Newman were painted by Millais. The story is told that Newman came to the studio accompanied by several priests and that the great Cardinal, hesitating to mount the dais, Millais said rather jocularly to him, "Come, jump up, you dear old boy!" Such a greeting was quite like the painter whose kindly heart often expressed itself in bluff words.
The late Lord Leighton was a devoted friend of our artist though his style of painting, with its devotion to classical lines and figures, was quite the opposite of Millais' style.
When Leighton was so ill that he could not attend to his duties as President of the Royal Academy, Millais was asked to take his place which he did graciously and with the utmost deference to the absent President. The illness which detained Leighton was his last, and when death had left the President's chair vacant all eyes were turned to Millais to fill it. When the voting took place it was found that it was unanimous for Millais except the vote which he himself cast for another.
This was in 1896. Eleven years before he had been made a peer, an honor which he readily accepted, not so much as a compliment to himself as to the art which he loved and which he so much graced.
Before this last honor came to him, however, he was a marked man. His voice, that in his prime had a wonderful carrying power, had been husky for some time, and on consultation with medical men it was found that a fatal throat disease had got a firm hold on the gifted man. He used to say, pointing to his throat, "This will be the death of me, but I've had a good time." After a while his voice left him entirely and he could not even whisper without pain. Still he received his friends, giving them the old hand-shake and the kindly look; but that sympathetic voice was gone forever, and even the most self-possessed of his visitors went away exceedingly sorrowful. Then came a day in August, 1896, when the bulletin which the Queen had ordered posted told that the artist had gone to join "the great majority."
There was an impressive funeral and the great-hearted artist, the frank and genial friend, was laid beside his peers in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral,—beside Reynolds, and Christopher Wren, and near to Landseer and Leighton, so recently gone before. So was buried, as one of the newspapers of the time expressed it, "The very type of the true Englishman—genial, sincere, hopeful, content with his own lot, and full of benignity to others, who trod, sometimes with weary feet, the road that led him to renown."
The following lines appeared in Puck, London's great humorous periodical, and they beautifully and fittingly celebrate the great qualities of the artist—
"At last Death brings his Order of Release,
And our great English painter lies at peace,
Amid a nation's sorrow.
A man in heart and Art, in soul and frame,
By love encompassed, and secure of fame,
Through history's long to-morrow.
The world seems grayer, gloomier, far less young,
For loss of him, the free of touch and tongue,
Nature's own child in both.
By glowing canvas or by rushing stream,
With brush or rod, he was no thrall of dream,
Feebleness, fad, or sloth.
Fresh as the morn, and frank as morn's full flush,
In friendship as in Art, with speech or brush,
Health, heartiness and power
Were his, from earliest critic-chidden days,
To that fine prime when universal praise
Hailed genius in full flower.
Men loved the man, and Art the artist crowned.
The brush that pictured poor Ophelia drowned
In young Pre-Raphaelite days,
Glowed with a virile vigor, and sweet charm
Too masterful to take abiding harm
From mere mimetic craze.
English he was, and England best inspired
His skill unfailing and his toil untired.
On his strong canvas live
Her loveliest daughters and her noblest sons,
All that to a great age, which swift outruns,
Its greatest glories give.
And he among those glories takes high rank.
Painter more masterly or friend more frank
Its closing scarce shall show.
Our good great MILLAIS gone! and yet not dead!
His best lives on, though that worn noble head
In rest at last lies low."