Although Peace Concluded,
is an extraordinarily beautiful painting by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt., P.R.A.,2
it has nonetheless been celebrated by controversy since its creation. Millais, at 25, England's most brilliant mid-nineteenth century painter, exhibited the work in the Academy exhibition of 1856 along with four other works, all of which received higher critical acclaim at the time.3
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Millais' close colleague and co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, is reported to have described the work as a "very stupid affair to suit the day-but very big and fetching him £900! without copyright, for which he expects £1000 more."4
Ford Madox Brown, Rossetti's teacher, and influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, called the color "bad, but some expressions beautiful and lovely (in) parts."5
This criticism seems all the more harsh since The Blind Girl,6
and Autumn Leaves,7
exhibited with Peace Concluded,
were regarded by Millais' colleagues as high points of his career; the idealistic Rossetti hailed The Blind Girl
as "one of the most touching and perfect things I know."8
Only John Ruskin, romanticist, naturalist, critic and painter, friend of the Pre-Raphaelites, and a man whose view of the century tends to be confirmed with perspective, asserted that Peace Concluded
"would rank in the future with Autumn Leaves
as among the world's masterpieces."9
Ruskin's praise of Peace Concluded
is incredibly generous, considering that in 1855 Millais married Euphemia Chalmers Gray (Effie), Ruskin's former wife, one year after the annulment of her marriage to Ruskin. During the fateful summer of 1853 Millais went to Scotland with Ruskin who hoped to influence him, as the key figure of the Pre-Raphaelites, to paint the Truth and Beauty of unbridled nature. Millais' portrait of him, the artistic product of the expedition, champions Ruskin's robust and complete view of nature, and marked a turning point in Millais' style. Earlier, his crystalized vision of nature was as though he looked at it "without eyelids . . . selecting nothing and rejecting nothing."10
Now this gave way to a more broad, less finished style. The ascetic Biblical and medieval subjects were fewer; contemporary and moralizing subjects began taking precedence. Ruskin continued fairly and dispassionately to regard Millais as an artist, "one of the most remarkable men of the age."11Peace Concluded
is a contemporary subject depicting a wounded officer returned from the Crimea, reading to his family the news of the end of the war. Millais has blatantly used his family and friends in the painting. Effie is the central figure; she is shown as the wife of the officer, the model for whom was Colonel Malcolm Paton. The dog, "Roswell," an Irish wolfhound, was bred in the Queen's kennels and was Millais' pet.12
The two ravishingly beautiful children, who are unidentified, play with toy animals; those in Effie's lap are to symbolize the powers involved in the Crimean war and the related political situation.13
The girl on the right holds her father's combat medal, and the girl on the left offers her father the dove of peace. Behind the family group, to the right, a grisaille painting depicts a battle.While the painting lacks the hypnotic intensity and tension of Millais' other works exhibited that year or earlier, the sentiment depicted is perhaps more realized and genuine. Peace Concluded,
like Autumn Leaves,
represents a resolution and a plateau. The narrow confines of his Pre-Raphaelite vision and the sanctity of its literary idealism, rarified by description, and not naturalized by nature perceived or by pure stylistic lineage, were short-lived. In place of the mystical vision one can see in Peace Concluded
an attempt at pure Victorian emotion and simple truths.Millais has enhanced the quietude of the scene by sumptuous painting of fabrics which soak up light and sound. He has carefully moderated patterns with large dark areas. The quality of his paint is truly remarkable; in its freedom, color, and tenderness, it anticipates Renoir. In his drawing, Millais is as sure as ever-the portraits of the children, for example, are perhaps the finest in all the nineteenth-century painting-and yet he has exhibited incredible bravura in his handling of the oil medium. The contrasts of glazes and impastos and the "blatant contrasts of color,"14
enliven the surface and focus our eyes on the major dramatic elements.Peace Concluded
suffered unjust criticism from Millais' Pre-Raphaelite brothers, who undoubtedly expected him, as the most successful and central figure of the group, to uphold the intense vision and purity of their stylistic ideals. Rossetti's disgust which was quoted earlier must be seen in this light. Some critics in this century may have unfairly regarded Peace Concluded
as a precedent for Millais' later fashionable portraits and genre compositions, which, although very popular in his own time, are regarded as empty and facile. Ruskin is reported to have noticed the impending weakening intellectual fiber of Millais' art as early as 1857, when he denounced Sir Isumbras at the Ford.15
Millais himself became aware of this change and in 1886 at the Grosvenor Gallery retrospective of his work, commented to his friend, the painter Holman Hunt, "I'm not ashamed of avowing that I have so far failed in my maturity to fulfill the full forecast of my youth."16Peace Concluded,
1856, stands as an extraordinary moment in Millais' career; as a work which shows Millais' first exuberant departure from the strictures of the Pre-Raphaelite vision, it documents the repose he achieved in his personal life, and the freedom of his technical facility to explore new potentials. At once, Millais' loss of Ruskin's friendship and inspiration and Millais' impulse to follow those more popular aspects of his art, led him from the intense "vehicle for private passion. . . awkward constraint of gesture and attitude. . . and feverish precision of drawing,"17
briefly of the most open form of expression. Peace Concluded
is a splendid addition to The Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection; here it will reinforce Ruskin's judgment that of his contemporaries, Mallais "is always the most powerful of them all."18Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- 69.48. The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund. Oil type on canvas, 46" x 36". Signed and dated 1856. Ex. Collection: James T. Miller of Preston, England; T. H. Miller; Sir John C. George, K. B. E. Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1856, No. 200; Royal Academy, 1898, No. 8.
- Born at Southampton in 1829, of parents of Jersey extraction, Millais died in 1896, shortly after being elected President of the Royal Academy. A child prodigy who won several medals for drawing, he was acknowledged as successful and popular. In 1838 he entered Sass's Drawing School, and in 1840, the Royal Academy School. His first exhibited picture at the Royal Academy was in 1846, Pizarro Siezing the Inca of Peru. In 1848 he won a Royal Academy gold Medal for Benjamites Siezing Their Brides. In 1848 he worked with Holman Hunt (whom he had met four years earlier) and formed with him, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and others, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1849, Millais exhibited at the Royal Academy, Isabella, his first painting in the new style, and signed P.R.B. By 1853 Millais was elected A.R.A. By 1866 the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was disbanded; Millais' new genre subjects and portraits made him one of England's most popular and successful painters. In 1885 he was created a Baronet, painting society portraits, and earning an estimated £30,000 per year. In 1886, his first major retrospective exhibited 159 works. From 1887 to his death he began to paint pure landscape compositions and returned to religious subjects. For most complete biographical information, see John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A., London 1899, 2 vols.
- A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, V, London, 1906, p. 245. Peace Concluded, #200; Portrait of a Gentleman, #293; Autumn Leaves, #448; L'Enfant Du Regiment, #553; The Blind Girl #586.
- M. H. Spielmann, Millais and His Works, With Special Reference to the Exhibition at the Royal Academy 1898, Edinburgh and London, 1898, p. 72.
- Ibid., p. 72.
- City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.
- City Art Galleries, Manchester, England.
- G. B. Hill, Leters of D. G. Rossetti to William Allingham, 1854-1870, London, 1897, p. 181.
- M. H. Spielmann, op. cit., p. 72.
- R. Ironside, Pre-Raphaelite Painters, with a descriptive catalogue by John Gere, New York, 1948, p. 13.
- Quoted in the catalogue introduction by Mary Bennett, Millais, PRB, PRA, an exhibition organized by the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, January-April, 1967, p. 9. That Peace Concluded was not traced for the exhibition was regrettable; it would have unquestionably been reevaluated.
- J. G. Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, London, 1902, p. 290 ff.
- The lion is for England, the cowering bear for Russia, the turkey (literally) for a Turkey, and the Gallic game cock for France-the participants in the Crimean War.
- M. H. Spielmann, op. cit., p. 72.
- R. Ironside and J. Gere, op. cit., p. 45.
- Mary Bennett, op. cit., p. 13.
- R. Ironside and J. Gere, op. cit., p. 18.
- Mary Bennett, op. cit., p. 13.
- Sir John Everett Millais. British (1829-1896). Peace Concluded, 1856. Oil type on canvas, 46" x 36". The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, 69.48.