A founder member along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Henry Holman Hunt among others of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that sought to break free from the precision of Raphael and the stifling formality of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Millais is perhaps best remembered now for his association with the Victorian cultural critic and social commentator John Ruskin, an early sponsor, whose wife Euphemia, or Effie, he would take from him leading to a very public, somewhat lurid, and highly embarrassing divorce case – but then the pre-Raphaelite desire for freedom in art, of a past imagined and a present made pure was no excuse for an absence of sleaze in thought and deed. .
After five years of marriage to Ruskin, Effie remained a virgin. Her relationship with Millais she would later explain to her father with reference to her former marriage:
“He (Ruskin) alleged various reasons (for non-consummation) hatred of children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason, that he had imagined women were quite different to what I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening.”
She would at least be happy in her marriage to Millais but the scandal of divorce was a heavy burden to bear in Victorian society particularly when the wife was perceived the instigator and public sympathy was on the side of Ruskin. Queen Victoria, a friend and admirer of his was particularly appalled and the Millais’s were to be effectively ostracised from the high society they so adored. It only relented following John Everett’s death in 1896, little recompense to Effie who died just over a year later.
The scandal surrounding the divorce case impacted on Millais’s popularity as an artist especially as he did not shy away from it using Effie as his model in a number of paintings and as a result he is perhaps more admired now than he was at the time:
Effie Gray a Glefinlas
Effie in Middle-Age
Hearts are Trumps
The Martyr of the Solway
I Am Never Merry When I Hear Sweet Music
The Farmer’s Daughter
The Ruling Passion
The Vale of Rest
The Order of Release
Yeoman of the Guard