Friday, July 29, 2011
John Everett Millais - My First Sermon
This picture is a smaller version of Millais’s painting in the Guildhall Art Gallery, London (canvas, 36.5 x 28.5 inches).It was commissioned by Agnew’s from the artist in August 1863 and sold to John Fleming the same year. He received £180 for it. The large version which Millais showed at the Royal Academy in 1863 was such a success that the artist made this replica in two days. He wrote to his mother ‘I never did anything in my life so well or so quickly’. He also made a small watercolour replica (9.5 x 6.5 inches) formerly in the collection of Sir David Scott. In 1865 a mezzotint engraving of the subject was published by Agnew’s and by Moore McQueen & Co. In 1864 Millais painted My Second Sermon also in the Guildhall Art Gallery as a pendant.
The painting depicts Effie, the five year old daughter of the artist, sitting in church, listening with great concentration to her first sermon. According to Millais’s son, studies of the church pew were made at the twelfth century church of All Saints in Kingston-on-Thames where Millais’s parents lived in a house overlooking the river. Visible beside her are her mother’s fur-trimmed coat and yellow gloves and a large leather-bound prayer-book. The vivid red used here is a characteristic of many of Millais’s paintings of the 1860’s.
My First Sermon is Millais’s first picture to show a sentimental treatment of childhood, a genre in which he later excelled. As has been recently pointed out in the Millais Exhibition catalogue (Tate Gallery, 2007-2008), ‘it was as a father that (Millais) began to experiment with the fancy picture as a genre, following the births of his daughters Effie (1858), Mary (1860) and Alice (1862)’.He described child portraiture as extremely difficult and according to his son, became adept at managing his child sitters by cajoling them with dolls, books and chocolates. Millais also employed Rupert Potter (Beatrix Potter’s father) to photograph the children in a selected pose so that he could concentrate on arranging the setting or background. These child subjects were frequently published as engravings and proved immensely popular with the public. Perhaps some of the most famous later examples are Bubbles (1886) in the Unilever Collection (on loan to the Lady Lever Art Gallery), Cherry Ripe (1879) and Little Miss Muffett (1884) both in private collections.