Monday, June 15, 2009

John Everett Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents

original drawing
Tate collection

Short video on this painting

Franny Moyle mentions that Millais spent hours in a real carpenter's shop in Oxford Street studying wood shavings. Joseph was modelled on a grocer from Holborn and the sheep in the background were modelled on stinking sheep's heads from a local butchers. 'Jesus' was a 'skinny child with rather large feet'.

Many reports go on about the attacks made by critics (and some of the public) about the realism of this picture. In the 15th June (1850) edition of Household Works, Charles Dickens wrote:
"You behold the interior of a carpenter's shop. In the foreground of that carpenter's shop is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering red-headed boy, in a bed=gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand, from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness, that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest ginshop in England. Two almost naked carpenters, master and journeyman, worthy companions of this agreeable female, are working at their trade; a boy with some small flavour of humanity in him, is entering with a vessel of water; and nobody is paying any attention to a snuffy old woman who seems to have mistaken the shop for the tobacconist's next door, and to be hopelessly waiting at the counter to be served with half an ounce of her favourite mixture. Wherever it is possible to express ugliness of feature, limb, or attitude, you have it expressed."


Goetz Kluge said...

As for Millais spent hours in a real carpenter's shop in Oxford Street studying wood shavings, the a draft of the painting may be interesting:

And there is more about the wood shavings:

Hermes said...

Thank you. The discussions are fascinating though ultimately hard to prove and beyond my simple expertise. But glad I read them.

Goetz Kluge said...

Another hard to prove finding: Why is St. Joseph bald?

Millais probably quoted from more than one image. The relation between the sources had already been investigaten by the late Margaret Aston in 1994 in "The King's Bedpost: Reformation and Iconography in a Tudor Group Portrait" (p. 68). Millais may have discovered thet relation already before 1850.