"Ophelia" and "The Huguenot," both of which Millais painted during
the autumn and winter of 1851, are so familiar in every English home
that I need not attempt to describe them here. The tragic end of
"Hamlet's" unhappy love had long been in his mind as a subject he should
like to paint and now while the idea was strong upon him he determined
to illustrate on canvas the lines in which she is presented as floating
down the stream singing her last song
"There, on the pendent boughs her coronet of weeds
Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down the weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."
--Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VII
Near Kingston, and close to the home of his friends the Lemprières,
is a sweet little river called the Ewell, which flows into the Thames.
Here, under some willows by the side of a hayfield, the artist found a
spot that was in every way suitable for the background of his picture,
in the month of July, when the river flowers and water-weeds were in
full bloom. Having selected his site, the next thing was to obtain
lodgings within easy distance, and these lie secured in a cottage near
Kingston, with his friend Holman Hunt as a companion. They were
not there very long, however, for presently came into the neighbourhood
two other members of the Pre-Raphaelite fraternity, bent on working
together, and, uniting with them, the two moved into Worcester Park
Farm, where an old garden wall happily served as a background for the
"Huguenot," at which Millais could now work alternately with the
It was a jolly bachelor party that now assembled in the farmhouse
--Holman Hunt, Charlie Collins, William and John Millais-- all
determined to work in earnest; Holman Hunt on his famous "Light of the
World" and "The Hireling Shepherd", Charlie Collins at a background,
William Millais on water-colour landscapes, and my father on the
backgrounds for, the two pictures he had then in hand.
From ten in the morning till dark the artists saw little of each
other, but when the evenings "brought all things home" they assembled to
talk deeply on Art, drink strong tea, and discuss and criticise each
Fortunately a record of these interesting days is preserved to us in
Millais' letters to Mr. and Mrs. Combe, and his diary --the only one he
ever kept-- which was written at this time, and retained by my uncle
William, who has kindly placed it at my disposal. Here are some of
his letters --the first of which I would commend to the attention of Max
Nordau, referring, as it does to Ruskin, whom Millais met for the first
time in the summer of this year. It was written from the cottage
near Kingston before Millais and Hunt removed to Worcester Park Farm.
To Mrs.. Combe.
SURBITON HILL, KINGSTON,
July 2nd, 18 th.
My DEAR Mrs. Combe,
I have dined and taken breakfast with Ruskin, and
we are such good friends that he wishes me to accompany him to
Switzerland this summer. . . We are as yet singularly at variance in our
Opinions upon Art.
One of our differences is about Turner. He believes that I
shall be converted on further acquaintance with his works, and I that he
will gradually slacken in his admiration.
You will see that 1 am writing this from Kingston, where I am
stopping, it being near to a river that ~ am painting for Ophelia.
We get up (Hunt is with me) at six in the morning, and are at work by
eight, returning home at seven in the evening. The lodgings we
have are somewhat better than Mistress King's at Botley, but are, of
course, horribly uncomfortable. We have had for dinner chops and
suite of peas, potatoes, and gooseberry tart four days running. We
spoke not about it, believing in the certainty of some change taking
place, but in private we protest against the adage that 'you can never
have too much of a good thing'. The countryfolk here are a shade
more civil than those of Oxfordshire, but similarly given to that
wondering stare, as though we were as strange a sight as the
My martyrdom is more trying than any I have hitherto experienced.
The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater
propensity for probing human flesh. Our first difficulty was . . .
to acquire rooms. Those we now have are nearly four miles from
Hunt's spot and two from mine, so we arrive jaded and slightly above
that temperature necessary to make a cool commencement. I sit
tailor-fashion under an umbrella throwing a shadow scarcely larger than
a halfpenny for eleven hours, with a child's mug within reach to satisfy
my thirst from the running stream beside me. I am threatened with
a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and
destroying the hay likewise by the admission of a bull in the same field
after the said hay be cut; am also in danger of being blown by the wind
into the water, and becoming intimate with the feelings of Ophelia when
that lady sank to muddy death, together with the (less likely) total
disappearance, through the voracity of the flies. There are two
swans who not a little add to my misery by persisting in watching me
from the exact spot I wish to paint, occasionally destroying every
water-weed within their reach. My sudden perilous evolutions on
the extreme bank, to persuade them to evacuate their position, have the
effect of entirely deranging my temper, my picture, brushes, and
palette; but, on the other hand, they cause those birds to look most
benignly upon me with an expression that seems to advocate greater
patience. Certainly the painting of a picture under such
circumstances would be a greater punishment to a murderer than hanging.
I have read the Sheepfolds, but cannot give an opinion upon it yet.
I feel it very lonely here. Please write before my next.
My love to the Early Christian and remembrances to friends.
Very affectionately yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS."
* It was in this year, 1850. that
the first specimen of the hippopotamus was seen in London.
Millais seems to have been of the same opinion as Lord Macaulay, who
says, "I have seen the hippopotamus, both asleep and awake and I can
assure you that, awake or asleep, he is the ugliest of the works of
To Mrs. Combe.
SURBITON HILL, KINGSTON,
My DEAR Mrs. Combe,
I have taken such an aversion to sheep, from so
frequently having mutton chops for dinner, that I feel my very feet
revolt at the proximity of woollen socks. Your letter received
to-day was so entertaining that I (reading and eating alternately)
nearly forgot what I was devouring. This, statement will, I hope,
induce Mr. Combe to write to me as a relish to the inevitable chops.
The steaks of Surrey are tougher than Brussels carpets, so they are out
of the question.
We are getting on very soberly, but have some suspicions that the
sudden decrease of our bread and butter occasioned by the C---- family
(under momentary aberration) mistaking our fresh butter for their briny.
To ascertain the truth, we intend bringing our artistic capacity to bear
upon the eatables in question by taking a careful drawing of their
outline. Upon their reappearance we shall refer to the portraits,
and thereby discover whether the steel of Sheffield has shaven their
features. This they did and made sketches of the butter.
Hunt is writing beside me the description of (his) your picture.
He has read Ruskin's pamphlet, and with me is anxious to read Dyce's
reply, which I thank you for ordering. In the field where I am
painting there is hay-making going on, so at times I am surrounded by
women and men, the latter of which remark that mine is a tedious job,
that theirs is very warm work, that it thundered somewhere yesterday,
that it is likely we shall have rain, and that they feet thirsty, very
thirsty. An uneasiness immediately comes over me; my fingers
tingle to bestow a British coin upon the honest yeomen to get rid of
them; but no, I shall not indulge the scoundrels after their rude and
greedy applications. Finding hints move me not, they boldly ask
for money for a drop of drink. In the attitude of Napoleon
commanding his troops over the Alps, I desire them to behold the river,
that which I drink. Then comes a shout of what some writers would
call honest country laughter, and I, coarse brutality. Almost
every morning Hunt and I give money to children; so all the mothers send
their offspring (amounting by appearance to twelve each) in the line of
our road; and in rank and file they stand curtsying with flattened palms
ready to receive the copper donation. This I like; but men with
arms larger round than my body hinting at money disgusts me so much that
I shall paint some day (I hope) a picture laudatory of Free Trade.
Good-night to yourself and Mr. Combe; and believe that I shall ever
Most faithfully yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS
To Mrs. Combe.
July 28th, i8~.
My DEAR Mrs. Combe,
Many thanks for Dyce's answer, which I received yesterday, and as yet
have read but little, and that little imperfectly understand.
"In answer to your botanical inquiries, the flowering rush grows most
luxuriantly along the banks of the river here, and I shall paint it in
the picture ['Ophelia'] The other plant named I am not
sufficiently learned in flowers to know. There is the dog-rose,
river-daisy, forget-me-not, and a kind of soft, straw-coloured blossom
(with the word 'sweet' in its name) also growing on the bank; I think it
is called meadow- sweet.
I am nightly working my brains for a subject. Some incident to
illustrate patience I have a desire to paint. When I catch one I
shall write you the description.
I enclose Hunt's key to the missionary picture, with apologies from
him for not having sooner prepared it. Begging you to receive his
thanks for your kind invitation, believe me, with affectionate regards
to Mr. Combe,
Most truly yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.
To Mrs. Combe.
WORCESTER PARK FARM, NEAR CHEAM, SURREY.
My DEAR MRS. COMBE,
YOU will see by the direction that we have changed our spot, and much
for the better. Nothing can exceed the comfort of this new place.
Little to write about except mishaps that have occurred to me.
I have broken the nail of the left-hand little finger off at the
root; the accident happened in catching a ball at cricket. I
thought at first the bone was broken, so I moved off at once to a
doctor, who cut something, and said I should lose the nail. I have
been also bedridden three days from a bilious attack, from which,
through many drugs, I am recovered.
We all three live together as happily as ancient monastic brethren.
Charley Collins has immensely altered, scarcely indulging in an
observation. I believe he inwardly thinks that carefulness of
himself is better for his soul. Outwardly it goes far to destroy
his society, which now, when it happens that I am alone with him, is
intolerably unsympathetic. I wish you could see this farm,
situated on one of the highest hills in this county. In front of the
house there is one of the finest avenues of elm trees I ever saw.
We live almost entirely on the produce of the farm, which supplies
every necessary. Collins scarcely ever eats pastry; he abstains, I
fancy, on religious principles.
Remember me affectionately to the mother who pampers him, and believe
Most affectionately yours,
To Mr. Combe.
WORCESTER PARK FARM,
October 15th, 1851.
My DEAR MR. COMBE,
You must have felt sometimes quite incapable of answering a letter.
Such has been my state. 1 have made te~o fruitless attempts, and
shudder for the end of this. Hunt and self are both delighted by
your letter, detecting in it a serious intent to behold us plant the
artistic umbrella on the sands of Asia. He has read one of the
travels you sent us, The Camp and the Caravan, and considers the
obstacles as trifling and easy to be overcome by three determined men,
two of whom will have the aspect of ferocity, being bearded like the
pard. Hunt can testify to the fertility of my upper lip, which
augurs well for the under soil. It therefore (under a tropical
sun) may arrive at a Druidical excellence.
Two of the children belonging to the house have come in and will not
be turned out. I play with them till dinner and resume work again
afterwards. The weather to-day has prevented my painting out of
doors, so I comfortably painted from some flowers in the dining-room.
Hunt walked to his spot, but returned disconsolate and wet through.
Collins worked in his shed and looked most miserable; he is at this
moment cleaning his palette. Hunt is smoking a vulgar pipe.
He will have the better of us in the Holy Land, as a hookah goes with
the costume. I like not the prospect of scorpions and snakes, with
which I foresee we shall get closely intimate. Painting on the
river's bank (Nile or Jordan) as I have done here will be next to
throwing oneself into the alligators' jaws, so all water-sketching is
put aside. Forgive this nonsensible scribble. I am only
capable of writing my very kindest remembrances to Mrs. Pat, in which
Charley and Hunt join.
Most faithfully yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILI.AIS.
At this time Millais had serious thoughts of
going to the East with Hunt, but eventually gave up the idea.
And now commences the diary, written closely and carefully on sheets of
notepaper. The style savours somewhat of the conversation of Mr. Jingle
; but, as in that gentleman's short and pithy sentences, the substance
"I am advised by Coventry Patmore to keep a diary.
Commence one forthwith.
To-day, October 16th, 1851, worked on my picture ['The Huguenot';
painted nasturtiums; saw a stoat run into a hole in the garden wall;
went up to it and endeavoured to lure the little beast out by mimicking
a rat's or mouse's squeak--not particular which. Succeeded, to my
astonishment. He came half out of the hole and looked in my face,
within easy reach.
Lavinia (little daughter of landlady) I allowed to sit behind me on
the box border and watch me paint, on promise of keeping excessively
quiet; she complained that her seat struck very cold. In the
adjoining orchard, boy and family knocking down apples; youngest sister
but one screaming. Mother remarked, 'I wish you were in Heaven, my
child; you are always crying'; and a little voice behind me chimed in, '
Heaven! where God lives' and (turning to me) 'You can't see God.'
Eldest sister, Fanny, came and looked on too. Told me her mother
says, about a quarter to six, 'There's Long-limbs (J. E. M.) whistling
for his dinner; be quick and get it ready.' Played with children
en masse in the parlour before their bedtime. Hunt just come in. .
. . Sat up till past twelve and discovered first-rate story for my
October 17th. Beautiful morning: frost on the barn
roofs and the green before the houses. Played with the children
after breakfast, and began painting about nine. Baby
screaming-commenced about ten o'clock. Exhibition of devilish
passion, from which it more particularly occurred to me that we are born
in sin. Family crying continually, with slight intermission to
recover strength. Lavinia beaten and put under the garden
clothes-pole for being naughty, to stay there until more composed.
Perceiving that to be an uncertain period, I kissed her wet eyes and
released her from her position and sat her by me. Quite dumb for
some time; suddenly tremendously talkative. These are some of her
observations: 'We haven't killed little Betsy (the pig) yet; she means
to have little pigs herself. Ann (the servant) says she is going
to be our servant, and me your cook, when you get married.' Upon
asking her whether she could cook, she answered, 'Not like the cooks
do.' At five gave up painting. Bitter cold. Children
October 18th. Fine sunny morning-. Ate grapes.
Little Fanny worked at a doll's calico petticoat on a chair beside me.
Driven in by drizzling, weather, I work in the parlour Fanny, my
companion, rather troublesome. Coaxed her out. Roars of
laughter outside the window F. flattening her nose against the pane.
Mrs. Stapleton called, with married son and daughter, and admired my
pictures ecstatically. Collins gone; went home after dinner.
Sat with Hunt in the evening; pelted at a candle outside with little
white halls that grow on a shrub. Composed design of 'Repentant
Sinner laying his head in Christ's bosom.' (This sketch, now in my
possession, was never transferred to canvas.)
October 19th (Sunday). Expected Rossetti, who
never came. Governor [his father] spent the day with us, saw Hunt's
picture and mine, and was delighted with them. Went to church.
Capital sermon. Poor Mr. Lewis felt very gloomy all the day;
supposed it to be the weather, that being dull and drizzling. . . .
Found two servants of Captain Shepherd both very pretty-one of whom I
thought of getting to sit for my picture. Traversing the same road
home, entered into conversation with them. Both perfectly willing
to sit, and evidently expecting it to be an affair of a moment one
suggesting a pencil-scratch from which the two heads in our pictures
could be painted! Bade them good-night, feeling certain they will
come to the farm to-morrow for eggs or cream. Went out to meet
Collins, but found we were too early, so came home and had tea. I
(too tired to go out again) sit down and write this, whilst Hunt
sets out once more with a large horn-lantern. Despair of ever
gaining my right position, owing to hearing this day that the Committee
of Judgment of the Great Exhibition have awarded a bronze medal in
approbation of the most sickening horror ever produced, 'The Greek
Slave.' Collins returned with his hair cut as close as a man in a House
October 20th. Finished flowers after breakfast,
after which went out to bottom of garden and commenced brick wall.
Received letter from James Michael-complimentary, as containing a
prediction that I shall be the greatest painter England ever produced.
Felt languid all day. Finished work about five and went out to see
Charlie. Walked on afterwards to meet Hunt, and waited for him.
In opening the gate entering the farm, met the two girls. Spoke
further with one on the matter of sitting.
October 21st. Painted from the wall and got on a
great deal. Bees' nest in the planks at the side of the house,
laid open by the removal of one of them for the purpose of smoking the
inmates at night and getting the honey. Was induced by the
carpenter to go up on the ladder to see what he called a curiosity.
Did so, and got stung on the chin. . . . 1 walked on to meet Hunt with
Collins. Met him, with two Tuppers, who dined with us off hare.
All afterwards saw the burning of the bees, and tasted the honey. . .
Read songs in the Princess. Have greater (if possible) veneration
October 22nd. Worked in the warren opposite the
wall, and got on well, though teased, while painting by little Fanny,
who Persisted in what she called 'tittling' me. Hunt proposed
painting, 'for a lark,' the door of a cupboard beside the fireplace.
Mentioned it to the landlady, who gave permission, with the assurance
that if she did not approve of it she should scrub it out.
Completed it jointly about two o'clock in the morning.
October 23rd. Our landlady's marriage anniversary.
Was asked by her some days back for the loan of our apartments to
celebrate the event. If we were not too high they would be glad to
see us. Painted on the wall ; the day very dull. A few trees
shedding leaves behind us, spiders determinedly spinning webs between my
nose and chin. . . . Joined the farmers and their wives. Two of
them spoke about cattle and the new reaping-machine, complaining,
between times, about the state of affairs. Supped with them ; derived
some knowledge of carving a chicken from watching one do so. Went
to bed rather late, and read In Memoriam, which produced a refining
melancholy. Landlady pleased with painting on cupboard. Of
this painting, by the way, my uncle, William Millais, has another and
somewhat different tale to tell, he says:
"Our landlady, Mrs. B., held artists to be of little account, and
my brother exasperated her to a degree on one occasion. The day
had been a soaking wet one. None of us had gone out, and we were
at our wits' end to know what to do. Jack, at Hunt's suggestion,
thought it would be a good joke to paint on one of the cupboard doors.
There were two-one on either side of the fireplace. Mrs. B. had one to
market. On coming into the room on her return, and seeing what
had been done--a picture painted on the cupboard door-- she was
furious ; the door had only lately been 'so beautifully grained and
varnished.' Hunt in vain tried to appease her. She bounced
out of the room, saying she would make them pay for it.
"It happened on the following day that the Vicar and a lady called
upon the young painters, and on being shown into the sitting-room,
Mrs. B. apologised for the 'horrid mess' (as she called it) on the
cupboard door. They inquired who had done it, and on being told
that Mr. Millais was the culprit, the lady said she would give Mrs. B.
in exchange for the door the lovely Indian shawl she had on, so when
the painters came in from their work, Mrs. B. came up cringingly to my
brother and said the only thing he could do was to paint the other
cupboard. He didn't paint the other door, but I believe Mrs. B.
had the shawl."
And now, in continuation of the " Diary,"
October 24th. Another day, exactly similar to the previous.
Felt disinclined to work. Walked with Hunt to his place, returned
home about eleven, and commenced work myself but did very little.
Read Tennyson and Patmore. The spot very damp. Walked to see
Charlie about four, and part of the way to meet Hunt, feeling very
depressed. After dinner had a good nap, after which read
Coleridge-- some horrible sonnets. In his Life they speak
ironically of 'Christabel', and highly of rubbish, calling it Pantomime.
October 25th. Much like the preceding day. All went to
town after dinner called at Rossetti's and saw Madox Brown's picture
'Pretty Baa-lambs', which is very beautiful. Rossetti low-spirited
sat with him.
October 26th, Sunday. Walked out with Hunt. Called upon
Woolner and upon Mrs. Collins to get her to come and dine with us ;
unwell, so unsuccessful. Felt very cross and disputable. Charlie
called in the evening; took tea, and then all three off to the country
October 27th. Dry day. Rose later than the others, and
had breakfast by myself. Painted on the wall, but not so well;
felt uncomfortable all day.
October 28th. My man, Young, brought me a rat after breakfast.
Began painting it swimming. when the governor made his appearance,
bringing money, and sat with me whilst at work. After four hours
rat looked exactly like a drowned kitten. Felt discontented.
Walked with parent out to see Collins painting on the hill, and on,
afterwards, to Young's house, he had just shot another rat and brought
it up to the house. Again painted upon the head, and much improved. . .
. My father and myself walked on to see Hunt, whose picture looks sweet
October 29th. Cleaned out the rat, which looked like a lion,
and enlarged picture. After breakfast began ivy on the wall very
cold, and my feet wet through; at intervals came indoors and warmed them
at the kitchen fire. Worked till half-past four brought all the
traps in and read In Memoriam.
October 30th. Felt uneasy could not paint out of doors, so dug-
up a weed in the garden path and painted it in the corner. . . . Went to
bed early, leaving Hunt up reading Hooker.
October 31st. Splendid morning. . . . Painted ivy on the wall,
and got on a great deal. After tea, about halfpast ten, went to
see powder-mill man (Young's) to commission him to fetch Hunt's picture
home. Sat in their watch-house with him and his brother, who
eulogised a cat, lying before the fire, for its uncommon predilection to
fasten on dogs' backs, also great ratting qualities. Returned home about
eleven and read In Memoriam. Left Hunt up reading Hooker.
November 4th. Frightfully cold morning; snowing.
Determined to build up some kind of protection against the weather
wherein to paint. After breakfast superintended in person the
construction of my hut-made of four hurdles, like a sentry-box, covered
outside with straw. Felt a ' Robinson Crusoe ' inside it, and
delightfully sheltered from the wind, though rather inconvenienced at
first by the straw, dust, and husks flying about my picture.
Landlady came down to see me, and brought some hot wine. Hunt
painting obstinate sheep within call. . . . This evening walked out in
the orchard (beautiful moonlight night, but fearfully cold) with a
lantern for Hunt to see effect before finishing background, which he
intends doing by moonlight.
November 5th. Painted in my shed from ivy. Hunt at the
sheep again. My man Young, who brought another rat caught in the
gin and little disfigured, was employed by Hunt to hold down a wretched
sheep, whose head was very unsatisfactorily painted, after the most
tantalising exhibition of obstinacy. Evening passed off much as
others. Read Browning's tragedy, Blot on The Scutcheon, and was
astonished at its faithfulness to Nature and Shakespearian perfectness.
Mr. Lewis, the clergyman of the adjoining parish, called, and kindly
gave us an invitation to his place when we liked. Had met him at
dinner at our parish curate's, Mr. Stapleton.
November 6th. Beautiful morning; much warmer than yesterday.
Was advised by Hunt to paint the rat, but felt disinclined. After
much inward argument took the large box containing Ophelia's background
out beside Hunt, who again was to paint the sheep. By lunch time
had nearly finished rat most successfully. Hunt employed small
impudent boy to hold down sheep. Boy not being strong enough,
required my assistance to make the animal lie down. Imitated
Young's manner of doing so, by raising it up off the ground and dropping
it suddenly down. Pulled an awful quantity of wool out in the
operation. Also painted ivy in the other picture.
November 7th. After breakfast examined the rat [in the
painting]. From some doubtful feeling as to its perfect
portraiture determined to retouch it. Young made his appearance
[a~troj5os], with another rat, and (for Hunt) a new canvas from the
carrier at Kingston. Worked very carefully at the rat, and finally
succeeded to my own and everyone's taste. Hunt was painting in a
cattle-shed from a sheep. Letters came for him about three.
In opening one we were most surprised and delighted to find the
Liverpool Academy (where his 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' picture is)
sensible enough to award him the annual prize of [~o]. He read the
good news and painted on unruffled. The man Young, holding a most
amicable sheep, expressed surprising pleasure at the fortunate
circumstance. He said he had seen robins in the spring of the year
fight so fiercely that they had allowed him to take them up in his
hands, hanging on to each other. During the day Hunt had a straw
hut similar to mine built, to paint a moonlight background to the fresh
Twelve o'clock. Have this moment left him in it, cheerfully working
by a lantern from some contorted apple tree trunks, washed with the
phosphor light of a perfect moon--- the shadows of the branches stained
upon the sward. Steady sparks of moonstruck dew. Went to bed
at two o'clock.
November 8th. Got up before Hunt, who never went to bed till
after three. Painted in my hut, from the ivy, all day. After
dinner Collins went off to town. Hunt again painting out of doors.
Very little of moonshine for him. . . . Advised H. to rub out part of
background, which he did.
November 9th, Sunday. Whilst dressing in the morning saw F. M.
Brown and William Rossetti coming to us in the avenue. They spent
the day with us. All disgusted with the Royal Academy election. . . .
They left us for the train, for which they were too late, and returned
to sleep here. Further chatted and went to bed.
November 11th. Lay thinking in bed until eleven o'clock.
Painted ivy. Worked well; Hunt painting in the same field; sheep
held down by Young.
November 16th, Sunday. To church with Collins; Hunt, having sat
up all night painting out of doors, in bed. After church found him
still in his room; awoke him and had breakfast with him, having gone
without mine almost entirely, feeling obliged to leave it for church.
Hunt and self went out to meet brother William, whom we expected to
dinner. Met him in the park. He saw Hunt's picture for the
first time, and was boundless in admiration; also equally eulogised my
ivy-covered wall. All three walked out before dinner.
In what they called the Round-house saw a chicken clogged in a small
tank of oil. Young extricated it, and, together with
engine-driver's daughter, endeavoured (fruitlessly) to get the oil off.
Left them washing fowl, and strolled home.
November I7th. Small stray cat found by one of the men, starved
and almost frozen to death. Saw Mrs. Barnes nursing it and a
consumptive chicken; feeding the cat with milk. Painted at the
ivy. Evening same as usual.
Some further details are supplied in the following letter :-
To Mr.Combe. "WORCESTER PARK FARM,
"November 17th, 1851.
"My DEAR COMBE,
Doubtless you have been wondering whether it is my intention ever to
let you have your own property ['The Dove' picture]. We hope to
return almost immediately, when I shall touch that which requires a
little addition, and directly send it on to you, a letter preceding it
to let you know. Hunt has gained the prize at Liverpool for the
best picture in the exhibition there. The cold has become so
intense that we fear it is impossible to further paint in the open air.
We have had little straw huts built, which protect us somewhat from the
wind, and therein till to-day have courageously braved the weather.
Carlo is still daily labouring at the shed, Hunt nightly working out
of doors in an orchard painting moonlight (employed also in the daytime
on another picture), and myself engaged in finishing another background
(an ivy-covered wall). There is one consolation which strengthens
our powers of endurance-necessary for the next week. It is to
behold the array of cases, which are the barns of our summer harvest,
standing in our entrance hall.
Very faithfully yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS."
At this time Charles Collins was engaged on the
background for a picture, the subject of which he had not yet settled
upon. He got as far as placing upon the canvas an old shed with
broken roof and sides, through which the sunlight streamed; with a peep
outside at leaves glittering in the summer breeze; and at this he worked
week after week with ever varying ideas as to the subject he should
ultimately select. At last he found a beautiful one in the legend
of a French peasant, who, with his family, outcast and starving, had
taken refuge in the ruined hut and were ministered to by a saint.
The picture, however, was never finished. Poor Collins gave up
painting in despair and drifted into literature (Charles Collins was a
regular contributor to Household Words, but is chiefly known by his
Cruise on Wheels, a work which met with success) and when the end came,
Holman Hunt, who was called in to make a sketch of his friend, was much
touched to find this very canvas (then taken off the strainers) lying on
the bed beside the dead man. The tragedy of vanished hopes!
But I must now return to the "Diary."
"November 18th. Little cat died in the night, also chicken.
Painted ivy. In the afternoon walked to Ewell to procure
writing-paper; chopped wood for our fire, and found it warming exercise.
November I9th. Fearfully cold. Landscape trees upon my
window-panes. After breakfast chopped wood, and after that painted
ivy. . . . See symptoms of a speedy finish to my background. After
lunch pelted down some remaining apples in the orchard. Read Tennyson
and the Thirty-nine Articles. Discoursed on religion.
November 20th. Worked at the wall; weather rather warmer. . . .
Evening much as usual.
November 21st. Change in the weather-cloudy and drizzling.
All three began work after breakfast. Brother William came about
one o'clock. After lunch found something for him to paint.
Left him to begin, and painted till four, very satisfactorily.
November 22nd. All four began work early. William left at
five, promising to come again on Monday. . . . After dinner Hunt and
Collins left for London, the former about some inquiries respecting an
appointment to draw for Layard, the Nineveh discoverer. After they
were gone, I wrote a very long letter to Mrs. Combe.
The letter is perhaps worth insertion here,
as showing the writer's attitude towards Romanism, which at that time he
was supposed to favour, and as an indication of the general design of
his picture, "The Huguenot." It ran thus...
To Mrs. Combe.
WORCESTER PARK FARM,
November 22nd, 1851.
"My DEAR Mrs. COMBE,
My two friends have just gone to town, leaving me here all alone. I
dine to-morrow (Sunday) with a very old friend of mine --Colonel
Lemprière-- resident in the neighbourhood, or else should go with them.
Mr. Combe's letter reached me as mine left for Oxford. Assure him
our conversation as often reverts to him as his thoughts turn to us in
pacing the quad. The associates he derides have but little more
capacity for painting than as many policemen taken promiscuously out of
I have no Academy news to tell him, and but little for you from home.
Layard, the winged-bull discoverer, requires an artist with him (salary
two hundred a year) and has applied for one at the School of Design,
Somerset House. Hunt is going to-night to see about it, as, should
there be intervals of time at his disposal for painting pictures, he
would not dislike the notion. One inducement to him would be that
there, as at Jerusalem, he could illustrate Biblical history.
Should the appointment require immediate filling, he could not take it,
as the work he is now about cannot be finished till March.
My brother was with us to-day, and told me that Dr.Hesse, of Leyton
College, understood that I was a Roman Catholic (having been told so),
and that my picture of 'The Return of the Dove to the Ark' was
emblematical of the return of all of us to that religion-a very
convenient construction to put upon it! I have no doubt that
likewise they will turn the subject I am at present about to their
advantage. It is a scene supposed to take place (as doubtless it
did) on the eve of the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. I shall
have two lovers in the act of parting, the woman a Papist and the man a
Protestant. The badge worn to distinguish the former from the
latter was a white -scarf on the left arm. Many were base enough
murder by wearing it. The girl will be endeavouring to tie the
handkerchief round the man's arm, so to save him; but holding his faith
above his greatest worldly love, will be softly preventing her. I
am in high spirits about the subject, as if is entirely my own, and I
think contains the highest moral. It will be very quiet, and but
slightly suggest the horror of a massacre. The figures will be
talking against a secret-looking garden wall, which I have painted here.
Hunt's moonlight design is from the Revelation of St. John, chapter
III, 20th verse, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear
My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with
him, and he with Me.' It is entirely typical, as the above.
A figure of our Saviour in an orchard abundant in fruit, holding in one
hand a light (further to illustrate the passage ' I am the Light of the
world '), and the other hand knocking at a door all overgrown by vine
branches and briars, which will show how rarely it has been opened.
I intend painting a pendant from the latter part of the same, 'And will
sup with him, and he with Me.' It is quite impossible to describe
the treatment I purpose, so will leave you to surmise.
Now to other topics. We are occasionally visited by the
clergyman of the adjoining parish, a Mr. Lewis. He was at [One1],
and knows Mr. Church, Marriot, and others that I have met. He is a
most delightful man and a really sound preacher, and a great admirer and
deplorer of Newman.
I cannot accompany 'The Dove' to the 'Clarendon,' as I have
un-get-off-ably promised to spend Xmas with the family I feast with
to-morrow, Captain Lempriére's. He is from Jersey, and knew me
when living there, and I would not offend him.
Our avenue trees snow down leaves all day long, and begin to show
plainly the branches. Collins still fags at the shed, Hunt at the
orchard, and I at the wall. Right glad we shall all be when we are
having our harvest home at Hanover Terrace, which we hope to do next
Yours most faithfully
(at twelve o'clock),
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.
Please send me a letter, or else I shall be jealous.
Millais having in this letter stated his conception of
"The Huguenot," it may be as well, perhaps, to describe here its actual
After finishing the background for "Ophelia," he began making
sketches of a pair of lovers whispering by a wall, and having announced
his intention of utilising them in a picture, he at once commenced
painting the background, merely leaving spaces for the figures. As
may be gathered from what has been already said, both he and Hunt
discussed together every picture which either of them had in
contemplation; and, discoursing on the new subject one evening in
September, Millais showed his pencil-drawings to Hunt, who strongly
objected to his choice, saying that a simple pair of lovers without any
powerful story, dramatic or historical, attaching to the meeting was not
sufficiently important. It was hackneyed and wanting in general
interest. "Besides," he quietly added, "it has always struck me as
being the lovers' own private affair, and I feel as if we were intruding
on so delicate an occasion by even looking at the picture. I
protest against that kind of Art." Millais, however, was
unconvinced, and stuck to his point, saying the subject would do quite
well; at any rate, he should go on working at "his wall."
In the evening, when the three friends were gathered together, poor
Charlie Collins came in for more "chaff" than his sensitive nature could
stand. He had refused some blackberry tart which had been served
at dinner, and Millais, knowing that he was very fond of this dish,
ridiculed his "mortifying the flesh" and becoming so much of an ascetic.
It was bad for him, he said, and his health was suffering in
consequence; to which he humorously added, that he thought Collins kept
a whip upstairs and indulged in private flagellations. At last
Collins retreated to his room, and Millais, turning to Hunt, who had
been quietly sketching the while, said, "Why didn't you back me up?
You know these unhealthy views of religion are very bad for him. We must
try and get him out of them."
"I intend to leave them alone," replied the peaceful Hunt; "there's
no necessity for us to copy him."
"Well," said Millais, " what have you been doing all this time while
I have been pitching into Charlie?"
Hunt showed him some rough sketches he had been making-some of them
being the first ideas for his famous picture, "The Light of the World."
Millais was delighted with the subject. and looking at some other
loose sheets on which sketches had been made, asked what they were for.
"Well," replied Hunt, producing a drawing, "you will see now what I
mean with regard to the lack of interest in a picture that tells only of
the meeting or parting of two lovers. This incident is supposed to
have taken place during the Wars of the Roses. The lady, belonging
to the Red Roses, is within her castle; the lover, from the opposite
camp, has scaled the walls, and is persuading her to fly with him.
She is to be represented as hesitating between love and duty. You
have then got an interesting subject, and I would paint it with an
evening sky as a background."
"Oh," exclaimed Millais, delighted, "that 's the very thing for me!
I have got the wall already painted, and need only put in the figures."
"But," said Hunt, "this is a castle wall. Your background won't do."
"That doesn't matter," replied Millais, "I shall make one Red and the
other to the White Rose faction; or one must be a supporter of King
Charles and the other a Puritan."
After much discussion Millais suddenly remembered the opera of The
Huguenots, and bethought him that a most dramatic scene could be made
from the parting of the two lovers. He immediately began to make
small sketches for the grouping of the figures, and wrote to his mother
to go at once to the British Museum to look up the costumes.
Probably more sketches were made for this picture and for the "Black
Brunswicker" than for any others of his works. I have now a number
of them in - my possession, and there must have been many more.
They show that his first idea was to place other figures in the picture
--two priests holding up the crucifix to the Huguenot, whose sweetheart
likewise adds her persuasions. Again, other drawings show a priest
on either side of the lovers, holding up one of the great candles of the
Roman Catholic Church, and the Protestant waving them back with a
gesture of disapproval. These ideas, however, were happily
discarded --probably as savouring too much of the wholly obvious-- and
the artist wisely trusted to the simplicity of the pathos which marked
the character of his final decision.
It will be seen then that the picture was not (as has been publicly
stated) the outcome of a visit to Meyerbeer's opera of The Huguenots;
though some time after Millais' decision he and Hunt went to the opera
to study the pose and costumes of the figures.
And now for some final extracts from the "Diary."
November 23rd, Sunday. Went to morning church;
felt disgusted with the world, and all longing for worldly glory going
fast out of me. Walked, miserable, to Ewell to spend the day with
my old friends the Lemprieres, who were at Sir John Reid's, opposite.
Called there, and was received most kindly. From there went on to
afternoon church. On our way met Mr. and Mrs. B---, my old flame.
Wished myself anywhere but there; all seemed so horribly changed; the
girl 1 knew so well calling me 'Mr. Millais' instead of 'John,' and I
addressing 'Fanny' as 'Mrs. B--'. She married a man old enough to
be her father; he, trying to look the young man, with a light cane in
his hand. Walked over his grounds (which are very beautiful) and
on to the new church, wherein the captain joined us, and shook hands
most cordially with me. A most melancholy service over all walked
home. Mrs. B-- distant, and with her mother. Mr. B-- did not
accompany us; found him at the captain's house --an apparently stupid
man, plain and bald. Was perfectly stupefied by surprise at Mrs.
B-- asking me to make a little sketch of her ugly old husband.
They left, she making, at parting, a bungling expression of gladness at
having met me. Walked over the house and gardens (Ewell), where I
had spent so many happy months.
Had a quiet dinner --the captain, Mrs., Miss and Harry. In the
evening drew Lifeguard on horseback ['Shaw, the Life-guardsman,' shown
at the 1898 Exhibition] for little Herbert, and something for Emily.
Left them with a lantern (the night being dark) to meet my companions at
the station. Got there too early, and paced the platform,
ruminating sorrowfully on the changes since I was there last.
Reached home wet through. Good fire, dry shoes, and bed.
November 24th. Painted on brick wall. Mr. Taylor and his son
(an old acquaintance of mine at Ewell), in the army, and six feet, came
to see me. Both he and his father got double barrels; pheasant in
son's pocket. They saw my pictures, expressed pleasure, and in
leaving presented me with cock bird. Lemprières came. The
parents and Miss thought my pictures beautiful. I walked with them
to the gate at the bottom of the park, and there met Emma and Mrs. B--
out of breath. They had driven after the captain, also to see my
landscape. Offered to show them again, but the father would not
permit the trouble. Parted, promising to spend Christmas with
them. Tried to resume painting. All then took usual walk.
Hunt, during day, had a letter containing offer for his picture of
'Proteus.' He wrote accepting it.
November 28th. Wilham came and worked at his sketch, and Sir
John Reid called to see my pictures. Were both highly pleased.
Took them to see Hunt's and Collins'. Mr. B--- officious and
revelling in snobbiness at having such distinguished persons at the
November 29th. All painted after breakfast--Hunt at grass;
myself, having nearly finished the wall, went on to complete stalk and
lower leaves of Canterbury-bell in the corner. Young, who was with
Hunt, said he heard the stag-hounds out; went to discover, and came
running in in a state of frenzied excitement for us to see the hunt.
Saw about fifty riders after the hounds, but missed seeing the stag, it
having got some distance ahead. Moralised afterwards, thinking it
a savage and uncivilised sport.
November 30th, Sunday. All rose early to get in time for train
at Ewell, to spend the day at Waddon. Were too late, so walked
into Epsom, expecting there to meet a train. Found nothing before
past one. Walked towards the downs, and to church at eleven, where
heard very good sermon. Collins so pious in actions that he was
watched by kind-looking man opposite. Very wealthy congregation.
Walked afterwards to Mrs. Hodgkinson's, but found she was too unwell
to sit with us, so dined with her husband; capital dinner. Sat
with Mrs. H- in her bedroom, leaving them smoking downstairs, and took
leave about half-past nine, Mr. Hodgkinson walking with us to station.
December 1st. All worked ; bitter cold. William left us
after dinner. Hunt read a letter from purchaser of his picture;
some money in advance enclosed in the same, and an abusive fragment of a
note upon our abilities. Felt stupidly ruffled and bad-tempered.
December 3rd. Hunt . . . painted indoors, and from the window
worked at some sheep driven opposite; I still at dandelions and
groundsel. Kitten most playful about me; laid in my lap whilst
painting, but was aroused by a little field-mouse rustling near the box.
Made a pounce upon, but failed in catching it. A drizzling rain
part of the day. Cut a great deal of wood, to get warm. . . .
Returned, and found a clerk from Chancery Lane lawyers in waiting upon
me, who came to induce me to attend chambers and swear to my own
signature upon Mr. Drury's will. Told him I could not attend
earlier than next week.
December 4th. Painted the ground. Hunt expected Sir
George Glynn (to see the pictures), who came, accompanied by his curate
and another gentleman, about the middle of the day, and admired them
much. Suggested curious alterations to both Collins' and Hunt's;
that C. should make the 'Two Women Grinding at the Mill' in an Arabian
tent, evidently supposing that the subject was biblical instead of in
futurity. After they were gone Hunt's uncle and aunt came, both of
whom understood most gratifyingly every object except my water-rat,
which the male relation (when invited to guess at it) eagerly pronounced
to be a hare. Perceiving by our smile that he had made a mistake,
a rabbit was next hazarded, after which I have a faint recollection of a
dog or cat being mentioned by the spouse, who had brought with her a
sponge-cake and bottle of sherry, of which we partook at luncheon.
Mutual success and unblemished happiness was whispered over the wine,
soon after which they departed in a pony-chaise. Laughed greatly
over the day, H. and self.
December 5th. This day hope to entirely finish my ivy
background. Went down to the wall to give a last look. The
day mild as summer; [r~tining] began about twelve. Young came with
a present of a bottle of catsup. William made his appearance about
the same time, and told us of the brutal murdering going on again in
Paris. He did not paint. Young brought a dead mole that was
ploughed up in the field I paint in. Though somewhat acquainted
with the form of the animal, was much surprised at the size and strength
of its fore-hands. Finished, and chopped wood. . . . In the
evening Will slept, H. wrote letters, C. read the Bible, and self
Shakespeare; and, later, walked out with H. in the garden, it being such
a calm, warm night. Requested landlady to send in bill, intending
to leave tomorrow. Had much consultation about the amount
necessary for her, in consideration of the many friends entertained by
us. Felt, with Collins, a desire to sink into the earth and come
up with pictures in our respective London studios."
On the following day Millais returned to Gower
Street, his backgrounds being now completed ; set to work at once on the
figures in the two pictures, Miss Siddal (afterwards
Mrs. D. G. Rossetti) posing as the model for "Ophelia". Mr. Arthur
Hughes has an interesting note about this lady in The Letters of D. G.
Rossetti to William Allingham. He says Deverell accompanied his mother
one day to a milliner's. Through an open door he saw a girl
working with her needle. He got his mother to ask her to sit to
him. She was the future Mrs. Rossetti. Millais painted her
for his 'Ophelia' wonderfully like her. She was tall and slender,
with red, coppery hair and bright consumptive complexion, though in
these early years she had no striking signs of ill-health. She had
read Tennyson, having first come to know something about him by finding
one or two of his poems on a piece of paper which she brought home to
her mother wrapped round a pat of butter. Rossetti taught her to
draw; she used to be drawing while sitting to him. Her drawings
were beautiful, but without force. They were feminine likenesses
of his own.
Miss Siddal had a trying experience whilst acting as a model for
Ophelia". In order that the artist might get the proper set of the
garments in water and the right atmosphere and aqueous effects, she had
to lie in a large bath filled with water, which was kept at an even
temperature by lamps placed beneath. One day, just as the picture
was nearly finished, the lamps went out unnoticed by the artist, who was
so intensely absorbed in his work that he thought of nothing else, and
the poor lady was kept floating in the cold water till she was quite
benumbed. She herself never complained of this, but the result was
that she contracted a severe cold, and her father (an auctioneer at
Oxford) wrote to Millais, threatening him with an action for damages for
his carelessness. Eventually the matter was satisfactorily
compromised. Millais paid the doctor's bill; and Miss Siddal, quickly
recovering, was none the worse for her cold bath. G. Rossetti had
already fallen in love with her, struck with her unworldly simplicity
and purity of aspect, qualities which, as those who knew her hear
witness, Millais succeeded in conveying to the canvas but it was not
until 1860 that they married.
About the year 1873 "Ophelia" was exhibited at South
Kensington, and Millais, going one day to have a look at it, noticed at
once that several of the colours he had used in 1851 had gone
wrong--notably the vivid green in the water-weed and the colouring of
the face of the figure. He therefore had the picture back in his
studio, and in a short time made it bloom again, as we see it to-day, as
brilliant and fresh as when first painted. This is one of the
great triumphs of his Pre-Raphaelite days. The colour, substance,
and surface of his pictures have remained as perfect as the day they
were put on. Nothing in recent Art, I venture to say, exceeds the
richness, yet perfect harmony, of the colours of Nature in " Ophelia"
and "The Blind Girl", and the same thing may be said of "The Proscribed
Royalist", "The Black Brunswicker", and the women's skirts in "The Order
of Release", whilst the man's doublet in "The Huguenot " and the woman's
dress in "Mariana" are perhaps the most daring things of the kind ever
Perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid to "Ophelia," as regards
its truthfulness to Nature, is the fact that a certain Professor of
Botany, being unable to take his class into the country and lecture from
the objects before him, took them to the Guildhall, where this work was
being exhibited, and discoursed to them upon the flowers and plants
before them, which were, he sail, as instructive as Nature herself.
Mr. Spielmann is enthusiastic in his praise of the picture. He
speaks of it as "one of the greatest of Millais' conceptions, as well as
one of the most marvellously and completely accurate and elaborate
studies of Nature ever made by the hands of man ". . . The robin
whistles on the branch, while the distraught Ophelia sings her own
death-dirge, just as she sinks beneath the water with eyes wide open,
unconscious of the danger and all else. It is one of the proofs of
the greatness of this picture that, despite all elaboration, less worthy
though still superb of execution, the brilliancy of colour, diligence of
microscopic research, and masterly handling, it is Ophelia's face that
holds the spectator, rivets his attention, and stirs his emotion."
The picture passed successively through the hands of Mr. Farrer, Mr.
B. Windus, and Mr. Fuller Maitland, before it came into the possession
of Mr. Henry Tate, to whose generosity the public are indebted for its
addition to the National Gallery of British Art. It was
exceedingly well engraved by Mr. I. Stevenson in 1866.
In the 1852 Exhibition, when both the "Ophelia" and
"The Huguenot' were exhibited, there was another beautiful "Ophelia" by
Millais' friend, Arthur Hughes, who is good enough to send me the
following note about the two pictures:
"One of the nicest things that I remember is connected with an
'Ophelia' I painted, that was exhibited in the Academy at the same
time as his [Millais'] own most beautiful and wonderful picture of
that subject. Mine met its fate high up in the little octagon
room (commonly known to artists of the period as "The Condemned
Cell") but on the morning of the varnishing, as I was going through
the first room, before I knew where I was, Millais met me, saying,
'Aren't you he they call Cherry ?' (my name in the school). I
said I was. Then he said he had just been up a ladder looking at
my picture, and that it gave him more pleasure than any picture there,
but adding also very truly that I had not painted the right kind of
stream. He had just passed out of the Schools when I began in
them, and I had a most enormous admiration for him, and he always
looked so beautiful---tall, slender, but strong, crowned with an ideal
head, and (as Rossetti said) 'with the face of an angel'. He
could not have done a kinder thing, for he knew 1 should be
disappointed at the place my picture had"
"The Huguenot" was exhibited with the following title and quotation
in the catalogue: "A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, refusing to
shield himself from danger by wearing the Roman Catholic badge. (See The
Protestant Reformation in France, vol. ii., p. 352.) When the
clock of the Palais de Justice shall sound upon the great bell at
daybreak, then each good Catholic must bind a strip of white linen round
his arm and place a fair white cross in his cap." (The Order of the Duc
Mr. Stephens says:
"When 'A Huguenot' was exhibited at the Royal Academy, crowds stood
before it all day long. Men lingered there for hours, and went
away but to return. It had clothed the old feelings of men in a
new garment, and its pathos found almost universal acceptance.
This was the picture which brought Millais to the height of his
reputation. Nevertheless, even 'A Huguenot' did not silence all
challengers. There were critics who said that the man's arm
could not reach so far round the lady's neck, and there were others,
knowing little of the South, who carped at the presence of nasturtiums
in August. It was on the whole, however, admitted that the
artist had at last conquered his public, and must henceforth educate
The picture is said to have been painted under a commission from a
Mr. White (a dealer) for £150; but, as a fact, Millais received £250 for
it, which was paid to him in instalments, and in course of time the
buyer gave him £50 more, because he had profited much by the sale of the
engraving. The dealers no doubt made immense sums out of the
copyrights alone of "The Huguenot", "The Black Brunswicker", and "The
Order of Release", while as to "The Huguenot" at least the poor artist
had to wait many months for his money and to listen meanwhile to a
chorus of fault-finding from the pens of carping scribblers, whose
criticism, as is now patent to all the world, proved only their
ignorance of the subject on which they were writing. In turn,
every detail of the picture was objected to on one score or another,
even the lady herself being remarked upon as "very plain." No
paper, except Punch and the Spectator [William Rossetti], showed the
slightest glimmering of comprehension as to its pathos and beauty, or
foresaw the hold that it eventually obtained on the heart of the people.
But Tom Taylor, the Art critic of Punch at that time, had something more
than an inkling of this, as may be seen in his boldly-expressed critique
in Punch, vol. [.] of 1852, pp. 216, 217.
The women in "Ophelia" and "The Huguenot" were
essentially characteristic of Millais' Art, showing his ideal of
womankind as gentle, lovable creatures; and, whatever Art critics may
say to the contrary, this aim- the portrayal of woman at her best-is one
distinctly of our own national school. As Millais himself once
said, "It is only since Watteau and Gainsborough that woman has won her
right place in Art. The Dutch had no love for women, and the
Italians were as bad. The women's pictures by Titian, Raphael,
Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Velasquez are magnificent as works of Art; but
who would care to kiss such women? Watteau, Gainsborough, and
Reynolds were needed to show us how to do justice to woman and to
reflect her sweetness."
A sweeping statement like this is, of course, open to exceptions
--there are many notable examples in both French and Italian Art in
which woman receives her due-- but in the main it is undoubtedly true.
"The Huguenot" was the first of a series of four pictures embracing
"The Proscribed Royalist", "The Order of Release," and "The Black
Brunswicker," each of which represents a more or less unfinished story
of unselfish love, in which the sweetness of woman shines conspicuous.
The figure of the Huguenot (as I have said before)
was painted for the most part from Mr. Arthur (now General) Lempriére
--an old friend of the family-- and afterwards completed with the aid of
Of his sittings to Millais during 1853, Major-General Lemprière
kindly sends me the following :
"It was a short time before I got my commission in the Royal
Engineers in the year 1853 (when I was about eighteen years old) that
I had the honour of sitting for his famous picture of 'The Huguenot'.
If I remember right, he was then living with his father and mother in
Bloomsbury Square. I used to go up there pretty often and
occasionally stopped there. His father and mother were always
"After several sittings I remember he was not satisfied with what
he had put on the canvas, and he took a knife and scraped my head out
of the picture, and did it all again. He always talked in the
most cheery way all the time he was painting, and made it impossible
for one to feel dull or tired. I little thought what an honour
was being conferred on me, and at the time did not appreciate it, as I
have always since.
"1 remember, however, so well his kindness in giving me, for having
sat, a canary-bird and cage, and also a water-colour drawing from his
portfolio ('Attack on Kenilworth Castle '), which, with several others
of his early sketches which I have, were exhibited at the Royal
Academy of Arts after his death.
"I was abroad, off and on, for some thirty years after I got my
commission, and almost lost sight of my dear old friend. He, in
the meantime, had risen so high in his profession that I felt almost
afraid of calling on him. One morning, however, being near
Palace Gate, I plucked up courage, and went to the house and gave my
card to the butler, and asked him to take it in to Sir John, which he
did; and you can imagine my delight when Sir John almost immediately
came out of his studio in his shirtsleeves, straight to the front
door, and greeted me most heartily.
"I was most deeply touched, about a fortnight before he died, at
his asking to see me, and when I went to his bedside at his putting
his arms round my neck and kissing me."
A lovely woman (Miss Ryan) sat for the lady in "The
Huguenot," Mrs. George Hodgkinson, the artist's cousin, taking her place
upon occasion as a model for the left arm of the figure. Alas for
Miss Ryan! her beauty proved a fatal gift: she married an ostler, and
her later history is a sad one. My father was always reluctant to
speak of it, feeling perhaps that the publicity he had given to her
beauty might in some small measure have helped (as the saying is) to
turn her head. The picture was the first of many engraved by his
old friend, Mr. T. 0. Barlow, R.A., and exceedingly well it was done.
It eventually became the property of Mr. Miller, of Preston, and now
belongs to his son. As this gentleman bought several of my
father's works, and is so frequently mentioned hereafter, the
description of him by Madox Brown in D. G. Rossetti's Letters may be of
"This Miller is a jolly, kind old man, with streaming white hair,
fine features, and a beautiful keen eye like Mulready's. A rich
brogue (he was Scotch, not Irish), a pipe of Cavendish, and a smart
rejoinder, with a pleasant word for every man, woman, and child he
met, are characteristic of him. His house is full of pictures,
even to the kitchen. Many pictures he has at all his friends'
houses, and his house at Bute is also filled with his inferior ones.
His hospitality is somewhat peculiar of its kind. His dinner,
which is at six, is of one joint and vegetables, without pudding.
Bottled beer for drink. I never saw any wine. After dinner he
instantly hurries you off to tea, and then back again to smoke.
He calls it meat-tea, and boasts that few people who have ever dined
with him come back again."
Mr. W.. M. Rossetti describes him as "one of the most cordial,
large-hearted and lovable men I ever knew. He was so strong in
belief as to be a sceptic as regards the absence of belief. I once
heard him say, in his strong Scotch accent, 'An atheist, if such an
animal ever really existed'. What the supposititious animal would
do, I forget."
Amongst other work of Millais this year was the retouching of "Cymon
and Iphigenia," a picture done by him in his seventeenth year, and now
vastly improved by a fresh impression of colour and a further
Pre-Raphaelite finish of the flowers in the foreground.
"Memory," a little head of the Marchioness of Ripon, was also painted
this winter. A more important work, however, is "The Bride~maid,"
for the head of which Mrs. Nassau Senior sat. "The Return of the
Dove" was also finished and sent to its owner along with the following
To Mr. Combe.
83, GOWER STREET, BEDFORD SQUARE,
My DEAR MR. Combe,
I have touched your picture, 'The Return of the Dove,' at last; and
hope it will arrive safely.
We came home on Saturday night. My brother brought the pictures
on Monday evening, one of them not having dried completely. We
have all fortunately escaped colds, which (considering the great
exposure we have undergone) is something to be thankful for. My
first two days of London have again occasioned that hatred for the place
I had upon returning to it last year. I had a headache yesterday,
and another about to come now.
You will perceive in some lights a little dulness on the surface of
'The Dove's' background. It will all disappear when it is
varnished, which must not be for some little time. It is almost
impossible to paint a picture without some bloom coming on the face of
You recollect it was arranged between Chancy and myself that it
should hang nearest the window, beside Hunt's. Please let it be a
little leaned forward.
My mother is talking with Hunt approvingly of the works I have just
had home, and I cannot write more without jumbling what they are saying
In great haste,
Most sincerely yours,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.
'The Dove' will be sent off to you to-morrow (Wednesday) by rail. The
reason for hanging the picture nearer the light is that it is much
darker than Collins' ' Nun.'
Another letter addressed to Mrs. Combe, and
referring to the sale of "Ophelia," carries us to the end of this year.
To Mrs. Combe.
83, GOWER STREET,
December 12, 1851.
My DEAR MRS. Combe,
I enclose a little book written by Miss Rossetti. I promised to send
it to you a long while ago, but have only recollected it now. I
think you will greatly admire it. My remembrance of it is but
slight, not having read it for several years. I was glad to hear
that 'The Dove' arrived safely, and that it gains upon acquaintance.
Mr. Farrer bought the 'Ophelia' the day before yesterday for three
hundred guineas. The day previous, a Mr. White, a purchaser, was
so delighted with it that he half closed with me. I expect he will
call to-morrow to say that he will have it, when he will he much
disappointed to hear of its sale.
Wilkie Collins is writing a Christmas book for which I have
undertaken to make a small etching.
Hunt's prize picture of ' Proteus' is sold to a gentleman at
Belfast-which sets him (H.) up in opulence for the winter. I saw
Charley last night. He is just the same as ever-so provokingly
quiet. I fancy you have rather mistaken my feelings towards him;
not a whit of our friendship has diminished. I was with him last
night, but little or nothing he said. I played backgammon with the
Let me know what you think of the 'Rivulets.' . .
In haste, yours sincerely,
JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS.