Sir John Everett Millais, Bart., P.R.A., H.R.I., H.R.C.A. 1829-1896
- Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A.
- JOAN OF ARC
- signed with monogram l.l.
- oil on canvas
- 82 by 62 cm. ; 32 1/4 by 24 1/2 in.
Frederick T. Turner;
His sale, Christie’s, 4 May 1878 (bought Agnew, £735);
Sir William Cuthbert Quilter, Bt, MP;
His sale, Christie’s, 9 July 1909, lot 69 (bought Wood, £735);
Albert Salisbury Wood, who bequeathed it to
Sir John Frost;
Hugh Frost, and by descent to;
A.G.L. Mayer (1967);
London, Sotheby's, 10th November 1999, lot 138;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1865, no.208;
London, Grosvenor Gallery, The Works of Sir John E. Millais, Bart., R.A., 1886, no.11;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Works of the late Sir John Everett Millais, Bart, President of the Royal Academy, 1898, no.16;
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1901, no.317;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Jubilee Autumn Exhibition, 1922, no.35;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery and London, Royal Academy, PRB Millais PRA, 1967, no.67;
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (on extended loan)
Art Journal, 1865, p.167;
Illustrated London News, 6 May 1865, p.439;
Athenaeum, 1865, p.591;
The Times, 8 May 165;
M.H. Spielmann, Millais and his Works, Edinburgh, 1898, pp.79, 170, 183, illus. p.83;
John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, two volumes, 1899, vol I, p.286, vol II, p.47;
Alfred Lys Baldry, Sir John Everett Millais, His Art and Influence, 1899, pp.30, 66, 114
John Everett Millais’s Joan of Arc shows the figure of a young girl kneeling in prayer, holding in both her hands a heavy sword and with a battle helmet at her side. Wearing a half-suit of armour and chain mail, and a red skirt-clad, Jeanne Darc (1412-1431), sometimes called the ‘Maid of Orleans’, is shown kneeling in prayer. From the age of fourteen she had claimed to hear the voices of Saints Michael, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch, all encouraging her to fight the English and save France. Most of the people to whom she spoke about these supernatural experiences were incredulous, but one local commander believed her when she described the holy voices that had addressed her. The story then reached the French dauphin, who was also persuaded that the voices that she continued to hear were messages sent from God. She was therefore allowed to ride at the head of the French army that departed from Blois in April 1429, wearing armour so brightly polished that it shone white in the sun. She led the French troops into battle, and successfully relieved the English siege of the city of Orléans. There followed a further successful campaign in the Loire valley, and then in July she conducted the dauphin to his coronation as Charles VII at Rheims.
Having in effect salvaged the French military position at a crucial stage in the Hundred Years War, Joan attempted to withdraw, but was not allowed to return to her home at Domrémy in the Meuse valley. Wounded and defeated in battle near Paris, she then joined in an attempt to relieve Compiègne, which was under siege by the Burgundians. Captured, she was sold by the Duke of Burgundy to the English. Imprisoned and accused of witchcraft, she was tried by a court of French churchmen. She conducted her own defence, but was undone by the cunning arguments of the Bishop of Beauvais. Convicted as a heretic, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at Rouen on 30 May 1431, her ashes being thrown into the Seine. In 1456, she was exonerated by an ecclesiastical court, and in 1920 she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV.
A folk legend familiar in both France and England, Millais may have known the story of Joan of Arc from Voltaire’s burlesque La Pucelle (1755) or Robert Southey’s drama Joan of Arc (1796). Shakespeare’s Henry VI, another possible source for the present painting, gives a more witch-like representation of Joan, which hardly corresponds with Millais’s admiring portrait of the heroine’s brave resolution. Joan of Arc has been venerated through the centuries as one who responded with complete integrity to God’s will both in France and in England. Parish churches have been dedicated to her; while in Winchester cathedral a statue of her is placed opposite the tomb of Cardinal Beaufort, the cardinal who interrogated her and provided evidence to the court which condemned her to death. St Joan is the second patron of France; her feast day occurs on 30 May.
In compositional terms, the drama of the moment is emphasised in Millais’s painting by the frontal treatment of the figure, which occupies almost all of the picture space and with virtually no distraction in the peripheral areas. The artist’s extraordinary natural facility in the handling of paint comes into its own in the treatment of the reflected highlights and gleaming texture of the armour. This display of painterly virtuosity was commented on by the critic of the Art Journal, when the painting was first shown at the Royal Academy, where attention was drawn to ‘the faithful realization of steel armour.’ (Art Journal, 1865, p.167) The art critic of the Times, likewise, found ‘the painting of the armour … so masterly that it somewhat diverts attention from the head.’ The painting overall, however, was found to be ‘a well-conceived and appropriate expression of mingled pain, doubtfulness, and ecstasy of faith.’ (The Times, 8 May 1865, p.8) When the painting was shown at the memorial exhibition of Millais’s works at the Royal Academy, its emotional and spiritual dimensions were recognised by Millais’s first biographer, for, despite the figure being ‘unmistakably a Victorian young woman, the spirit is eternal – a world of faith, devotion, and strength of purpose is in the face and attitude in this figure kneeling before some shrine as she vows herself to France.’ (M.H. Spielmann, Millais and his Works, Edinburgh, 1898, p.79)
A brilliantly talented artist even as a child, Millais had been brought to London in 1838, aged nine, so that he might begin to train for a professional career as a painter. Shortly afterwards, he was enrolled at Sass’s drawing academy, and entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of twelve. In his late teens he painted historical subjects, such as Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru (Victoria & Albert Museum, London), for which he won a gold medal when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1846. In 1848 Millais joined with Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais’s Isabella (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) was the first painting to demonstrate Pre-Raphaelite principles of intense colour and meticulous detail, observed from nature. In 1850 Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop (Tate Gallery, London) was derided by the critics, notably Charles Dickens, but a year later John Ruskin lent his support to the Pre-Raphaelites, defending their works and artistic principles in letters to the press. The following year Millais’s A Huguenot (private collection) brought him acclaim and popularity.
In the course of a holiday in Scotland in 1853 Millais painted Ruskin’s portrait. He also fell in love with Ruskin’s wife Effie, whom he later married. In 1853 he was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy, an event that effectively dissolved the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. During the mid-1850s Millais drifted away from the ideals with which Pre-Raphaelitism had been invested, finding that his extraordinary and instinctive natural facility for the handling of paint was restricted by a commitment to minute representation. However, he remained a profoundly creative and original figure on the London artistic scene – emerging as one of the innovators of the Aesthetic principle, which held that works of art in whatever medium should operate and be judged in their own right rather than as translations of narrative themes into pictorial imagery. Thus he abandoned a function of storytelling in art in favour of abstract and symbolical subjects. Works such as Autumn Leaves (Manchester City Art Gallery), of 1856, where children stand before a fire and the spectator is invited to meditate on the transience of human existence, are among his masterpieces.
In the 1860s Millais returned on occasions to historically set subjects, although always with a compositional directness and simplicity that makes them immediately comprehensible and not dependent on elucidation in the form of a text. The first of these was The Black Brunswicker (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), of 1860, in which a girl attempts to stop her German lover – an officer in the Brunswick regiment – from departing from her on the eve of Waterloo. On the back wall of the room that the couple occupy is a framed engraving of J.L. David’s Napoleon crossing the St Bernard Pass, as if to emphasise the unfolding historical events which were the context for the imaginary scene. The Black Brunswicker was received with critical enthusiasm at the 1860 Royal Academy exhibition, although there were conflicting interpretations as to the mood and motivations, as well as national sympathy, of the female figure.
In the early 1860s Millais principally painted figure subjects and genre pieces. In 1865, however, he returned to historical subjects that might lend themselves to uplifting or even patriotic sentiments. With the present painting of Joan of Arc, was also exhibited at the Royal Academy Millais’s large subject showing the departure of the Roman legions at the end of the period of Roman occupation of Britain in the late fourth or early fifth centuries (ex Sotheby’s, London, 14 June 2002, lot 112), a work inspired by a reading of Raphael Holinshed’s Historie of England, which was part of the Chronicles that he published in 1577. Frederick Turner, a partner in the publishing firm of Cassel's and Company, the first owner of Joan of Arc, also owned a reduced version of Millais' The Romans Leaving Britain (Sotheby's, London, 9 June 1994, 207).
The subject of Joan of Arc had not previously attracted English artists, but had frequently been treated by French painters of an earlier generation. A veritable cult for Joan of Arc subjects had established itself in Paris in the years of the Restoration. In 1819, for example, ten works on the theme were displayed in that year’s Salon, with others regularly occurring between 1817 and 1833. An example of this enthusiasm, and a painting that was famous in Britain and France was Paul Delaroche’s Jeanne d’Arc est interrogée dans sa prison par le Cardinal de Winchester (Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts), which appeared in 1824 and which represented an event from Joan’s life not previously shown by artists.
Delaroche’s Joan of Arc painting was to become familiar to a wide audience in Britain and France through the many engravings that were made after it (and in addition two further versions, a sketch and a reduced replica, were to enter the Wallace collection). Delaroche’s interest in authentic and historically researched subjects had a great influence on the way English painters treated historical and patriotic subjects in the middle years of the nineteenth century, not least on the painters associated with the scheme for the decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. Millais would almost certainly have known Delaroche’s Joan of Arc subject, and was perhaps led to his own treatment of the French heroine by Delaroche’s example.