The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was a group of English artists, poets and critics, founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The first meeting of the PRB was held at the home of Millais at Gower Street in London. However, Millais was born in Southampton and his circle did have links with Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Millais was baptised at All Saints’ Church, Southampton on 8 Jun 1829, the son of John William Millais and Mary Millais.
John William Millais was a merchant and the family lived in Portland Street, Southampton. The exact location of the house they lived in is unknown, as evidenced by the plaque in Portland Street commemorating the centenary of his death in 1996. The plaque at the Above Bar end of Portland Street reads “Sir John Everett Millais, the pre-Raphaelite painter and president of the Royal Academy, was born in a house near this spot.”
The family had strong connections with Jersey and Millais spent much of his youth on the island. However, Southampton’s celebrated son has a street named in his honour.
(ref: OS 25” 3rd edition map of 1910, sheet 65.12)
Hampshire was to be where Millais painted one of his later celebrated, though not much admired, pictures ‘Bubbles’. It was painted at Turret House, West Street, Portchester. This very sentimental depiction of a young boy blowing bubbles was later used in the Pears Soap advertisement. The child in the portrait grew up to be Admiral Sir William James, Commander in Chief of Portsmouth during World War 2!
(ref: HPP4/094. Image belongs to Portchester Civic Society.)
There are two large paintings by Millais at Christchurch Priory. One is entitled ‘The Widow’s Mite’ and the other ‘The Rich Young Ruler’. ‘The Widow’s Mite’ was gifted to the Priory in 1928 by Mrs Reeves of Avonmouth House, Mudeford. In 1953, this generosity was repeated when Admiral and Mrs Reeves gifted ‘The Rich Young Ruler’ to Christchurch Priory. The paintings found their way to Christchurch via Mrs Reeves’ father, Mr James Hall, who was a philanthropist, ship owner and art collector from Northumberland.
However, not everybody was a fan of the Pre-Raphaelite’s realism. In one of our collections there is an amusing letter written by E Dorothy Bradby at Lady Margaret Hall to her sister Mabel Bradby, 14 Nov 1880, in which she describes her reaction to seeing Millais’ portrait of John Ruskin, the famous art critic, for the first time. “There was such a funny picture at Dr Ackland’s. It looked just like a big coloured photograph of a man standing in an attitude by a little waterfall. The man was in a bran (sic) new coat & trousers, & was exactly like the men that always stand in photographs. When we came up to it, we found that it was Ruskin by Millais! I never saw anything so funny.”
Similarly, John Ruskin, the art critic courted by the PRB for his influence and patronage, was derided in another of our letters dated May 1854 from Anne Sturges Bourne to Marianne Dyson. Anne comments that she has heard that Ruskin is so unkind to his wife that they must be parted and ‘if true it makes one rather sick of the lamp of sacrifice’. (ref: 9M55/F28/6). This refers to Ruskin’s 1849 essay ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’ and the notoriety he gained when his wife Effie Ruskin (neé Gray) had their marriage annulled in 1854 for non-consummation. Effie went on to marry John Everett Millais.
Rossetti and Ruskin both spent time staying at Broadlands, Romsey. Rossetti stayed there for four weeks in August 1876, the guest of Mrs Cowper-Temple. Indeed, Rossetti’s masterpiece ‘Beata Beatrix’ was purchased by William Cowper-Temple in 1871. It is likely that Rossetti became associated with the Cowper-Temples through Ruskin’s close links with Broadlands and the Cowper-Temple family. Rossetti, Ruskin and Mrs Cowper-Temple also shared an interest in spiritualism.
Rossetti did complete some work whilst at Broadlands, “His oil painting ‘The Blessed Damozel’ was still not finished though begun in 1874; a model was needed for the head of the angel-child in the main group below the central figure. His Broadlands friends undertook to find him a baby head and produced a child from the workhouse. After a day spent drawing him he proved unsuitable and was packed off again. The second attempt was successful. Wilfred John Hawtrey, aged eighteen months, son of the local clergyman, remains commemorated on canvas.” (‘Ruskin and Rossetti at Broadlands’ by Virginia Surtees in ‘Hampshire’ magazine, August 1981, pp53-54).
Work by the wider circle of Pre-Raphaelite influenced artists (including Frederick Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris) can all be seen in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. St Michael’s, Lyndhurst contains a striking fresco by Leighton and a window designed by his fellow Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones. The fresco was painted as a gift by Leighton early in his career. It represents the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.
Hampshire Archives and Local Studies holds some original letters from Edward Burne-Jones. Below you can see a nice cartoon of the proposed window in one letter and a promise to visit Lyndhurst for a holiday soon!
The glass designed by Burne-Jones for Lyndhurst Church was made by the firm founded by William Morris in 1861. The window in the south transept was designed by Burne-Jones, but the two figures of censing angels in the upper tracery, are by Rossetti.
There is also a beautiful stained glass window at St Stephen, Sparsholt to the memory of S Bostock. The window is by J H Dearle, adapted from an original design by Burne-Jones.
There are examples of Pre-Raphaelite work dotted through out Hampshire (both pre and post 1974 county boundary). Do come in and see the documents highlighted above!
Rhian Dolby, searchroom team