Saturday, 27 October 2012
Sir John Everett Millais, 'Mariana' 1851
When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson's Mariana (1830):
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'
Tennyson's poem was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, she leads a lonely existence in a moated grange. She is still in love with Angelo - now Deputy to the Duke of Vienna - and longs to be reunited with him.
In the picture the autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Mariana has been working at some embroidery and pauses to stretch her back. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose and the needle thrust fiercely into her embroidery. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin's fulfilment with Mariana's frustration and longing. Millais copied the scene from the window of the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. However, the heraldic design appears to have been his own invention. The motto 'In coelo quies' means 'In Heaven there is rest' and clearly refers to Mariana's desire to be dead...
Of the three principal members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848 John Millais certainly had the greatest natural facility as a painter. He was born in St. Helier, Jersey. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he met William Holman Hunt, whose ideas about painting Millais found very exciting. Together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hunt and Millais set out to paint with a simplicity and ingenuousness which they took to be the spirit in which mediaeval art was practised. They believed implicitly inaccurate realism and bright colour. Millais particularly used a technique whereby he painted in colour on a wet white ground to achieve greater effects of luminosity. His Pre-Raphaelite picture Christ in the House of His Parents brought upon him a storm of criticism.
His greatest paintings were perhaps his subjectless figurative pictures, The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves, of the mid 1850s. Later he reverted to a more anecdotal style of subject picture and gave way to a tendency to paint winsome children in a style which, while it derives from Velazquez, is still over-sweet and sometimes coy. Millais was a remarkable draughtsman and illustrator; the series of drawings of modern life subjects which he did in 1853-4 reflect the moral crisis in which he found himself when he and Ruskin's wife Effie fell in love.
In his later career Millais gained a great popular reputation and became very rich largely as a result of the lucrative sale of copyrights of his pictures to print publishers. He was made President of the Royal Academy after Leighton's death in 1896, but died the same year.