John Everett (Baronet) Millais (1829 - 1896)

Lot 140: Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A. , 1829-1896 my first sermon watercolour and gouache


November 19, 2008
London, United Kingdom

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Description: signed with monogram l.l. watercolour and gouache
Dimensions: measurements note 24.25 by 16.5 cm.; 9 ¾ by 6 ½ in.
Literature: John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, two volumes, 1899, vol. II, p. 471;
PRB Millais PRA, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1967, p. 47;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 88-89.
Provenance: Commissioned by Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1863;
Charles Langton, of Barkhill, Aigburth, Liverpool, by 1886;
Sold by his executors, Christie's, 20 April 1901, lot 62 (bought Agnew for £110. 5 shillings);
Barnet Lewis, 2 Hamilton Place and Foxbush, Hildenborough, Kent;
Sold by his executors, Christie's, 28 February 1930, lot 46 where bought by Sir David Scott for 38 guineas
Notes: 'This is the finished sketch for a large picture by Millais which hangs in Guildhall, London. The little girl, who is sitting in one of the old-fashioned high pews, with her mother's cloak just shewing [sic] on the right, is, you see, all attention. In the companion picture "My Second Sermon", the same little girl is fast asleep!' Sir David Scott

The subject of My First Sermon shows a young girl sitting in a high backed wooden pew in church. Resting on the bench at her side is her prayer book, and to the right a pair of gloves belonging to an adult companion. The child sits with great self-possession as she listens to the sermon, and betrays no sign of weariness or impatience. Millais used his own daughter Effie, who was then four years old, as the model for the painting. Effie appeared in a number of her father's paintings, her attractive and winsome appearance making her a suitable model for the childhood subjects which became an increasingly important part of his output, and including Little Red Riding Hood and the charming The Minuet, of 1864 and 1866 respectively. Later in life, Effie James - to give her her married name - modelled for her father's Nell Gwynne (the completion of an equestrian subject commenced by Edwin Landseer), in 1882, and Forget-me-not, in 1883 Millais had been in 1848 one of the three principal members of the artistic movement known as Pre-Raphaelitism, in which - along with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti - he had attempted to lead the reform of English painting in favour of emotionally sincere and personal subjects, treated with intense colour and carefully observed natural detail, and in the later 1850s and 1860s he remained a progressive and challenging artist. This was a period of extraordinary inventiveness and aesthetic sophistication, when painters and writers explored issues of how works of art might be understood - whether in a literal and documentary way or, as the artists of the aesthetic movement preferred, subliminally and by subtle inflection of mood. Millais's subjects which portray children, often infused with a sentimental tinge, represent this movement towards imagery with which the spectator is invited to sympathise and find delightful. This autograph replica of My First Sermon was done to the commission of Thomas Agnew & Sons. The prime version of the subject (Guildhall Art Gallery, London) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863, to critical and popular acclaim. In 1864 Millais painted My Second Sermon (Fig 1. Guildhall Art Gallery, London) as a pendant to the oil version of My First Sermon. Another replica of My First Sermon, painted in oils, was sold in these rooms (15 July 2008, lot 55).

We are grateful to Dr Jason Rosenfeld for his kind assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry.
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