The Somnambulist by John Everett Millais

Just one day before the publication of Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist which is set in Victorian England, Bonhams auction house announced the sale of the Pre-Raphaelite painting that inspired the novel’s title.

Currently owned by the Bolton Museum and valued by Bonhams at between £70,000-£100,000, ‘The Somnambulist’ by Millais is the haunting portrait of a sleepwalking woman dressed in white. It is full of a brooding dark menace, and subtly conjures up themes of suppressed sexuality and the occult which also feature strongly in the novel where the painting is first described in the following way –

'That painting was called The Somnambulist, and it showed a young woman with flowing dark hair, wearing no more than a thin cotton gown as she walked at the perilous edge of a cliff. She carried a candle, but no flame had been lit, and I always feared she might slip to her death, dashed on the rocks in a cold grey sea...'

Some say the Millais painting was inspired by Wilkie Collins’ sensational novel The Woman in White – others that it was based upon La Sonnambula, a popular nineteenth century opera which played to packed houses all over Europe – much like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals today. And as Andrew Lloyd Webber has previously purchased many other Pre-Raphaelite paintings, perhaps he will be interested in this week’s sale of ‘The Somnambulist’. 

Essie Fox will certainly be going along, if only to view this wonderful painting (viewings can be made today, tomorrow,and on Wednesday morning between 9-11am) and the acution will take place on the afternoon of Wednesday July 13th at Bonhams in London’s New Bond Street. 


  1. Ooh, I wonder where she'll end up next? Such an evocative painting - I can understand why you were inspired by it.

  2. Brooding indeed! I am sure La Sonnambula was the model. Not only was the opera playing to packed houses all over Europe at the time, but the walk across the dangerous cliff edge was the same.

    But the poor sleep walker was totally innocent and unaware of what was happening; she could not be responsible for her behaviour. I wonder if the "suppressed sexuality" was in the mind of the artist and/or the viewer, rather than in the model.