06/10/2009

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS (1829-1896)



Thanks to those of you who commented on my blog’s banner image. Hearts and Trumps is taken from a painting by John Everett Millais which can be seen at Tate Britain in London.

Millais’ art has had quite an influence on my writing to date – but before coming to the reason for that, I wonder how many of you saw the artist depicted in the recent television production of Desperate Romantics?  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lvyq2


Based on a book by Franny Moyle – which I haven’t read, and I do know that screen adaptations can veer wildly from the original source material – the series was fun and I was hooked. But, it certainly strayed from historical fact and timing, being more of a cartoonish romp where the Brotherhood of the Pre Raphaelite painters behaved like the Four Musketeers, carousing around London – having first swallowed several Viagra tablets. And, I wonder how many people now believe that version of events to be The Truth? The same with that other dumbed-down and sexed-up BBC production, The Tudors ,in which the brooding, dark and extremely well-toned Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the part of Henry VIII.




In Desperate Romantics, Millais was depicted as a pretty but endearing wimp. He was actually quite a forceful looking character (see above). A child prodigy, he was enrolled at the Royal Academy at the age of 11, going on to rebel against the established structure of stylised Victorian painting to become a founding father of the Pre Raphaelite movement. His work rate was prolific, ranging from iconic sensual women, to society portraits, from serious landscapes to those twee images such as ‘Bubbles’ which was an enormous commercial success – being sold to advertise Pears Soap.




But, one of his paintings, The Somnambulist, has a special significance for me, having been the inspiration for a story I’m currently working on, which features sleepwalking and the occult – both subjects of fascination for the Victorians. Millais’ picture was thought by some to be based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, but others presumed it was inspired by Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula. I don’t know which explanation is true – but both caused sensations in his mid –nineteenth century world and, though I have no such hopes for my novel, if it were ever to be completed or published, I would love to see Millais’ painting on the cover – even though my wish may be as fanciful as those lives depicted in Desperate Romantics.

2 comments:

  1. Bubbles used to be hung up in our house when I was a child. I don't know why!

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  2. Rehan - I think we used to have Cherry Ripe!

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