Saturday, August 10, 2013

John Everett Millais - Married for Rank

The drawing belongs to a group of modern-life subjects, mostly on the themes of love and marriage, that Millais drew in pen and ink in 1853-4. Malcolm Warner, cataloguing some of them for the great Pre-Raphaelite exhibition held at the Tate Gallery in 1984, compared them to scenes in contemporary novels and to the 'modern moral subjects' of Hogarth. 

The drawings are also autobiographical. In the late summer of 1853 he had fallen in love with Effie Ruskin, the wife of his mentor and patron John Ruskin, during the fateful holiday they had all taken together in the Trossachs. The outcome was one of the most notorious scandals of the Victorian period, Effie seeking the annulment of her marriage to Ruskin on grounds of non-consummation and eventually marrying Millais in July 1855. To see the drawings in this context is perhaps the only means of explaining their unique degree of intensity, putting them among Millais' very greatest achievements.

Married for Rank shows a handsome young woman entering a room on the arm of her much older husband. She has an imperious, arrogant air and is no doubt ambitious; he is non-descript and already bent, but clearly distinguished (he wears the Order of the Garter) and rich. As they pass with their retinue of hangers-on, one of whom addresses the husband obsequiously, a young and good-looking but wounded officer approaches from the right and takes the woman's hand. A former suitor, he is aghast to see that she wears a wedding ring, but she sweeps on, hardly deigning to notice him.

When the drawing was included in Millais' memorial exhibition at the Royal Academy in the winter of 1898, it was lent with two others, entitled Married for Money and Married for Love, by the same collector, William Reed; and they remained together until December 1972, when they were sold at Christie's and split up. Married for Love is now in the British Museum, Married for Money in another private collection. Malcolm Warner described the three drawings in 1984 as forming 'a kind of triptych on the theme of marriage', and pointed out that this drawing has an old inscription reading 'Married for Money', which has been partially erased and is now barely legible. Married for Money would be a reasonable title for the drawing, but Married for Rank is more accurate 'since the contrast between the old man and the young officer is expressed more through signs of rank than wealth'. It may be, Warner concludes, that Married for Money was the drawing's original title but was re-assigned to the one which bears it now 'when Millais, or perhaps another member of his family, or a collector, decided that the three marriage drawings should have matching titles'.

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