The National Gallery of Victoria’s recent survey, Australian Impressionism, drew attention to the strong impact upon local portraiture in the 1880s and 1890s of the work of John Everett Millais, G. F. Watts, and James McNeill Whistler, especially upon Tom Roberts. (See my “Colony and Capital in Australian Impressionist Portraiture,” in Terence Lane, ed., Australian Impressionism, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2007, pp. 181–99.) Although none of these comes as a surprise, it has not previously been demonstrated that the avenue of communication between London and Melbourne was sustained so directly by the long residence in Victoria of Millais’s older half-brother Clement Hodgkinson. (Ibid., pp. 182–4, and n. 17, p. 305.) In 1881, both brothers replied angrily in print to a long, meandering review of Millais’s exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street by the London correspondent of the Argus, who claimed, somewhat perversely, that Millais was the son of “a small shopkeeper in Jersey.” (April 23, 1881, p. 13. The same exhibition was referred to in Punch as “The Millais-Nium in New Bond Street,” March 26, 1881.) Millais objected:
To the Editor of the Argus
Some good natured friend…has sent me a most offensive article on my exhibition in Bond Street. He commences with “Mr. Millais was as most people are aware the son of a small shopkeeper in Jersey” and goes on to say that Mr. Millais said to Mr. Hunt, “Now I am going to paint a picture in your way” and continues to the end to misrepresent and falsify everything in connection with my work and myself. Neither my father, grandfather or great-great-grandfather ever kept a shop, large or small, I never made such an observation to Mr. Hunt as he himself will tell you if you care to ask. I would not have taken the trouble to write thus but your paper has a reputation here as well as in Australia and I think it right you should be advised of the carelessness (to use the mildest term) of your London correspondent. I will only add, I was not born in Jersey, that the “child” in “The Order of Release” was not one of my wife’s brothers and that my father was of no occupation having…independent means.
John Everett Millais
Writing separately on the spot in Melbourne, Clement Hodgkinson took care to underline the fact that those independent means were acquired as a consequence of their mother’s first marriage to the Southampton brewer Enoch Hodgkinson (April 25, 1881, p. 5). If the episode caused tension between the brothers, no evidence of it survives; at least two of Millais’s eight children later went to Melbourne and stayed with their Uncle Clement: Everett in 1881 or 1882 (Trumble, n. 23, p. 305), and one of his four daughters (see no. 4, below).
A sequence of eighteen gossipy and in most cases wildly inaccurate notes about Millais published anonymously between its establishment in 1885 and 1896 by Maurice Brodzky (1847–1919) in the weekly Melbourne society paper Table Talk further underscores the otherwise sparsely documented imminence in Melbourne of Millais’s enormous reputation. In conformity with the detailed coverage of imperial and international affairs in the wider colonial press, as well as thorough reporting of events in the London art world, these disparate notes about Millais suggest that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century the psychic distance between imperial capital and colonial outpost was considered far less enormous in Melbourne than in London, and that it was actually later generations of Australian artists, who, in the mid-twentieth century, felt more keenly what Geoffrey Blainey so deftly described in the phrase “tyranny of distance.”
1. December 11, p. 1: “Have you seen Millais’s portrait of Mr. Simon Fraser [private collection, Queensland]? Don’t miss it. Millais was in ecstasy over painting such a Cromwell-like head, and said he didn’t like to take the money—a paltry hundred guineas per sitting, of an hour each, and eighteen sittings…Mr. à Beckett, the artist, pleased me greatly with his portrait of Bishop [Charles] Perry, at the [Melbourne International] Exhibition, five years ago. I expect to be equally gratified with his Mr. Justice [Robert] Molesworth. Like [George Frederick] Folingsby—and indeed like Millais—à Beckett seizes the characteristic traits which invariably elude a photograph.”
2. March 11, p. 3: “Any day may be seen opposite Sir John Millais’s house an artist who illustrates the pavement with designs in coloured chalks. Under the designs which this humble individual offers to public criticism is written—‘Here lies the poor artist, there (with hand pointing) resides the rich one.’” Punch (March 19, 1881, “London paved with gold”) had suggested that Whistler and Burne-Jones collaborate to produce pavement drawings in chalk.
3. March 18, p. 16 “Personal”: “Lady Millais, wife of the artist Sir John Millais, was formerly the wife of John Ruskin, from whom she was procured.”
4. May 21, p. 11: “Amongst the festivities now being given in Melbourne in honor of Miss Millais, daughter of Sir John Everett Millais, R.A., were an afternoon tea party by Mrs. Godfrey Mackinnon of Hawthorn, and another tea party on Saturday afternoon, May 15, by [Thomas Ann,] Mrs. Ward-Cole at Brighton. Amongst those who were invited to meet Miss Millais at Mrs. Ward-Cole’s residence were:—[Major-]General and Mrs. [Francis] Downes, Colonel and Mrs. Walker. Colonel and Mrs. Brownrigg, Major and Mrs. Fellowes, Mr. [George Frederick], [Julia,] Mrs., and the Misses [Sophia and Elfrida] Bartropp, Mr. and Mrs. A[?gar]. E. Wynne, Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Mackinnon, Miss Smith (Wellington-street, St. Kilda), and Miss Thomas.”
5. May 28, p. 2: “Messrs. A. and F. Pears, the well-known soap makers, have purchased Sir John Millais’ painting ‘Bubbles’ for £2,200.”
6. September 10, p. 2: “A draft for two thousand guineas has just been forwarded to Sir John Millais, by the bereft parents of a little boy who died in Melbourne of inflammation of the brain a few weeks ago. The draft was accompanied by a photograph of the child, and a commission to paint his portrait for the afore named [sic]…The trustees of the Melbourne National Gallery have declined to purchase the ‘Love Bird,’ which was sent out from London in the expectation of being thus disposed of.”
7. April 1, p. 3: “Sir John Millais, who is painting Lord Hartington’s portrait, is likely to be overwhelmed with commissions for the likenesses of political celebrities, as a recent sale has shown what profit can be realized over such art.”
8. June 22, p. 3 “Personal”: “Sir John Millais, the eminent portrait painter, was, like Sir Henry Loch [sic], long ago, an Australian gold-digger [sic].”
9. August 10, p. 3: “Looking at Sir. J. E. Millais’ portrait of the daughter of Baron Rothschild, mounted on a horse, painted by Sir Edwin Landseer—it is just on the right-hand side as you enter the British gallery in the Exhibition—I could not help thinking of the words of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. ‘Money kept for two or three generations,’ he writes, ‘transforms a race. I don’t mean merely in manners and hereditary culture, but in blood and bone. Money buys air and sunshine, in which children grow up more kindly, than in close dark streets. It buys country-places to give them happy and healthy summers, good nursing, good doctoring, and the best cuts of beef and mutton. When the young chickens come to market,—I beg your pardon, that is not what I was going to speak of. As the young females of each successive season come on, the best specimens among them, other things being equal, expect to attract those who can afford the expensive finery of beauty. The physical character of the next generation rises in consequence.’ So fine a specimen of womankind could never have been reared amidst the squalid surroundings of the Judengasse, at Frankfort, but at Mentone or Ferrarières there are all the conditions spoken of by Dr. Holmes, and the third generation of the Rothschilds has produced the finest fruit on the ancestral tree.”
10. January 11: “It appears that not only was the Marquis of Salisbury in Australasia in the early days, but Sir John Millais [sic], the eminent painter, and Mr. [Thomas] Woolner, the well-known sculptor, were also in Victoria. Mr. Woolner did not take to the diggings [sic], but Sir George [sic] Millais tried his luck at Bendigo; and as he and the marquis of Salisbury (then Mr. [sic] Robert Cecil) were contemporaries on the Bendigo goldfield some 35 years ago, they must have occasionally brushed against each other, both being probably attired in the regulation cabbage-tree hat, red shirt, and moleskin trousers—the orthodox digger’s working costume.”
11. April 18, p. 7: “A Competitive Prize Exhibition open to art amateurs and students only, will be instituted by Messrs. Raphael Tuck, in January, 1890, at the galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-color, Piccadilly, London. The judges will be Sir John Everett Millais, R.A., Mr. Marcus Stone, R.A., Mr. G. H. Broughton, A.R.A., and Mr. Solomon J. Solomon, R.A. There will be one hundred prizes, three of which will be first prizes of fifty guineas each, and others in different grades. The exhibition is restricted to art amateurs and students alone—and professional work will in no case be admitted. Copies of the rules and regulations may be had from the Melbourne agents.
12. June 19, p. 3 “Australian Purchases in London”: “Australians crowded to the Royal Academy Exhibition during the last month. The small picture by Mr. Samuel Bigg, entitled ‘In Front of the Grand Stand at the Finish of the Melbourne Cup,’ naturally attracted considerable attention. Of the pictures marked ‘sold,’ Mr. Frank Dicksee’s ‘The Crisis,’ Mr. J. W. Waterhouse’s ‘Ulysses and the Sirens,’ [both National Gallery of Victoria] and a watercolor by [Friedrich Edouard] Meyerheime [sic], were specially criticized by Australians, these three having been selected by Mr. [Hubert von] Herkomer, R.A., as most desirable additions for the Victorian National Gallery, and they will be sent to Melbourne at the close of the Academy Exhibition in August. In addition to disposing of ‘The Crisis’ to the trustees of the Victorian National Gallery, Mr. Dicksee has sold his allegorical picture, ‘Mountain of the Winds,’ to Mr. W[illiam]. Knox D’Arcy, the Mount Morgan millionaire, formerly a solicitor at Rockhampton, who, by the way, is having a magnificent drawing-room, 50 feet in length, added to his mansion in Middlesex—Stanmore Hall—which he purchased recently from John Holland, late M.P. for Brighton. Mr. [George] McCulloch, another wealthy Australian, has purchased Mr. Stanhope Forbes’s ‘Soldiers and Sailors,’ and one of Mrs. Stanhope Forbes’ quaint bits of Cornish child-life. His gallery will also shortly be enriched by the addition of a new canvas by Sir John Everett Millais, and an excellent subject from the brush of Mr. David Murray.”
13. June 26, p. 4: “Art and Artists: Mr. George McCulloch”: Mr. George McCulloch, the Broken Hill ‘Silver King,’ has lately been making some further heavy purchases in the London picture market. The latest additions to his collection include Sir John Millais’ ‘Lingering Autumn;’ ‘The Salvation Army, 1891,’ by Stanhope Forbes;’ ‘A Highland Glen,’ by Peter Graham; ‘High, Low, Jack, and the Game,’ by Hamilton Macallum; ‘The Judgment of Paris,’ by Solomon J. Solomon; and ‘Lay Thy Sweet Hand in Mine and Trust in Me,’ by E. Blair Leighton.”
14. May 8, p. 2 “Personal”: Sir John Millais’ first picture was purchased by Charles Reade, the novelist. Ruskin said that it was not a failure, but a fiasco, and kicked a hole in the picture.”
15. May 15, p. 1: “Sir John Millais, the new president of the Royal Academy, has been down to the Queen to have his appointment confirmed. He is a modest man, fond of telling stories that turn the laugh against himself—for instance, the little encounter he had with a compatriot. He was down by the banks of the Tay, painting in the rushes in his famous landscape, ‘Chill October.’ He worked on so steadily that he failed to observe a watcher, until a voice said: ‘Eh, mon, did ye ever try photography?’ ‘No,’ said the artist, ‘I never have.’ ‘It’s a deal quicker,’ quoth his friendly critic, eyeing the picture doubtfully. Millais was not flattered, so he waited a minute before replying, ‘I daresay it is.’ His lack of enthusiasm displeased the Scot, who took another good look, then marched off with this Parthian shot: ‘Ay, and photography’s muckle sight mair like the place, too!’ Lady Millais is received at Court notwithstanding the rather peculiar circumstances of her marriage, which has resulted in nine children. She was the divorced [sic] wife of Ruskin.”
16. June 12, p. 2: “Millais’s portrait of the Marchioness of Tweeddale, reproduced in Pictures of the Royal Academy of 1896, would pass for that of [Gertrude,] Mrs. Mæsmore Morris, of Melbourne. It is the very image of Dr. Wilmott’s pretty daughter.”
17. December 11, p. 2: “Sir John Millais, the value of whose personalty has just been declared at £97,119 4s 5d. died a richer man by far than any of his predecessors in the presidential chair of the Royal Academy. Lord Leighton, who died worth £47,000, was probably, after Sir John Millais, the richest of the presidents, while the poorest of them was undoubtedly Sir Thomas Lawrence, for although his pictures and other property realized £16,000, when sold soon after his death, the whole sum was required to meet the demands made upon his estate. Other English painters have left far greater fortunes than these behind them, notably Turner and Landseer. The famous landscape painter left £140,000, while the value of Sir Edwin Landseer’s personalty was £160,000. Mr. Edward Armitage, who died a few months ago, was still wealthier than either Landseer or Turner, but his fortune of £318,000 was not derived from the sale of his pictures. He was a man of large private means, but his professional income was comparatively small. Mr. Edward Long, who died in 1891, left £74,000 to his legatees, and Sir Joseph Boehm, whose death took place a few months earlier, £47,276. Another rich sculptor was Sir Francis Chantry [sic], who bequeathed £100,000 to the Royal Academy for the purchase of modern works of art.”
18. December 18, p. 2: “Without Prejudice, by ‘The Idler’”: “Millais’ most valuable painting is the ‘Order of Release,’ because the woman in it is a portrait of Lady Millais, formerly Mrs. Ruskin.”