Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A. H.R.H.A., H.R.I., R.P., H.R.S.A. (1829–1896) and Rebecca Solomon (1832–1886)
- Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A. H.R.H.A., H.R.I., R.P., H.R.S.A. (18291896) and Rebecca Solomon (18321886)
- christ in the house of his parents
Previously inscribed in Millais's hand on the reverse but now obscured by a 1920s relining: Copied by Miss Solomon, and all the heads, and a great part of the background painted by me, John Everett Millais
- oil on canvas
Commissioned by Moore, McQueen & Co. to provide the basis for the reproductive engraving that they were to publish in 1866;
Bought by Thos Agnew & Sons, 1866;
Sold to William Graham MP, for £132;
His sale, Christie's, London, 2 April 1886, lot 72 (bought Baiter for 42 guineas);
Louise Salaman and thence by descent to her son;
His sale, Christie's, London, 11 July 1969, lot 121, where bought by Christopher Wood on behalf of Sir David Scott for 1200 guineas
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Sunshine and Shadow - The David Scott Collection of Victorian Paintings, 1991, no. 25;
On loan to Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 2007 to 2008
C. Wood, Christie's Review of the Year 1968/1969, London, 1969, pp. 55-7, illustrated p. 54;
The Pre-Raphaelites, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1984 (in Malcolm Warner's catalogue entry for Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents), p. 79;
Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham - Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphaelite Collector', The Walpole Society, 2000, p. 301, catalogue no. C122;
Sotheby's, Pictures from the Collection of Sir David and Lady Scott, 2008, pp. 84-87;
Professor L. L. Grüner, published by Moore, McQueen & Co., in 1886.
'A version of the famous picture in the Tate which created such an uproar when exhibited in the Academy, Dickens being foremost in criticising it for its individuality [...] It is a very accurate and pleasing duplicate of a famous picture.' Sir David Scott
This replica of Millais's seminal Pre-Raphaelite painting Christ in the House of His Parents was commenced by Rebecca Solomon, herself a noted painter of genre and figurative subjects and the sister of the Pre-Raphaelite associate Simeon Solomon, but was then taken up and completed by Millais himself. Millais' intervention is documented by the inscription that is recorded as having been made on the reverse of the canvas (Fig 1), in which the artist himself stated that he had painted the heads of the six figures, as well as 'a great part of the background'. Furthermore, Millais's own account books for 1863 (kept by his wife Effie, and published by Mary Bennett in The Bulletin of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) record a payment of £50 to Millais for having 'repainted' Rebecca Solomon's copy. Careful inspection of the version of the subject in the Scott collection reveals no clear evidence of two separate hands, so the work may be regarded as having been commenced by Solomon but then completed over its entire surface by Millais, and therefore as a collaboration between the two which also has the status of an autograph work by Millais.
The original Christ in the House of His Parents, otherwise known as Christ in the Carpenter's Shop (Tate) was painted by Millais in 1850 and exhibited that same year at the Royal Academy. It is a most remarkable instance of the desire on the part of the Pre-Raphaelites to create edifying and instructive subjects, but without recourse to iconographic traditions which they felt had become degraded. Six figures are shown – Christ and the Virgin Mary at the centre; St. Anne and St. Joseph behind; St. John the Baptist at the right side; and an assistant in Joseph's workshop on the left. As the subject is conceived, Christ has injured his hand while at work; he raises his palm to show his mother the wound, and a drop of blood falls to his foot. Thus the stigmata of Christ's Passion are prefigured. The composition includes many other symbolical allusions to the events of the New Testament and to Christ's ministry; while at the open doorway of Joseph's workshop a flock of sheep represent mankind who await the teachings of Christianity.
Reactions to the painting in 1850 were virulently hostile, on the grounds that the artist had debased a subject which it was felt should be treated with decorum. Charles Dickens's journalistic polemic in Household Words, in which the figure of Christ is described as 'a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a night-gown, who has received a poke playing in an adjacent gutter', is well known, and gives some measure of the strength of feeling that the painting aroused. Queen Victoria heard about it, and requested that the painting should be removed from display at Trafalgar Square so that she might see it for herself. 'I hope it will not have any bad effects on her mind', Millais wrote to his fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt.
In reality, the painting was one of the most remarkable works of Pre-Raphaelitism in its formative stage. It fulfils William Michael Rossetti's plea that the paintings of members of the newly founded brotherhood should 'sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote', and was Millais' first and most original contribution to the contemporary demand for a new and radical type of Protestant religious art to take account of contemporary enthusiastic Tractarianism.
The present replica of Millais's subject was made to be sent to Professor L.L. Grüner of Dresden, who had been commissioned to make a reproductive engraving of it. For this reason, it was imperative that the replica was a faithful repetition of the original, both in the overall arrangement of the compositional elements, such as the stance of the figures and treatment of the interior space. In addition, the narrative represented needed to be graphically shown, as it is in the original composition, so that Grüner could capture the psychology of the subject in his print and be able to catalogue all of the intended details of Prefigurative or Typological symbolism that are incorporated into the original. Grüner's engraving of the subject was published in 1866.
The precise circumstances by which Rebecca Solomon received the commission to paint the replica of Christ in the House of His Parents are not known. Born in 1832, and trained at the Spitalfields School of Design, she first exhibited in London in 1850 and thereafter produced a regular succession of oils of domestic and genre subjects. In addition, she worked as an assistant and copyist in the studios of older and more professionally established artists, as recorded by Ellen Clayton in her book English Female Artists (1876), who reported that she 'made many copies from the old masters as commissions [... and] also copies of pictures by John Phillips, Frith, Millais, Faed, and others.' Pamela Gerrish Nunn has speculated about how Rebecca Solomon gained such employment, assuming that it was through the agency of her older brother, Abraham - himself a well-known figure on the London art circuit. Grateful though Rebecca may have been for such recommendations, Nunn questions whether 'he was thereby doing his sister's career a service', because 'an artist successful enough to need studio assistance will rarely share the credit with the assistant [... and on the grounds] that the prejudice against women as original artists [was such] that if a woman had a proven facility for copying she would be bound to be seen as derivative in everything she did' (Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Solomon - A Family of Painters, exhibition catalogue, Geffrye Museum and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1985, p. 21).
The prestige of Millais's name and the importance of the subject treated led to the present painting entering the distinguished collection of Pre-Raphaelite works belonging to the Glasgow businessman and Liberal M.P. William Graham (1817-1885). Graham lived in London and at Langley Hall, near Manchester, and also had houses in Scotland at Urrard and at Stobhall. His collection was immensely strong in works by Rossetti and Burne-Jones, as well as in paintings and drawings by Walker and his circle. He was also an enthusiastic collector of old master paintings, particularly Italian primitives and sixteenth-century Venetian art. William Gladstone appointed him a trustee of the National Gallery in 1884.