This watercolour version was shown at the winter exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878-79. The critic for The Examiner described the picture as 'a delightful little work by Mr. Millais' (The Examiner, 11 Jan 1879) and the correspondent for Pall Mall Gazette is equally complimentary: 'A few important works must, however, be touched upon. Mr. Millais's "A Dream at Dawn" (825) is of small size, but a gem of its kind. The artist has seldom created a more beautiful type than the lady in a white flowing dress, leaning over a balcony encircled by blossoms and all kinds of greenery. The expression of the head is full of intense passion, although there is a certain dreamy vagueness in the eyes waiting for the dawn.' ('The Grosvenor Gallery, Second Notice' 30 January 1879')
This watercolour was bought from Millais by his deer-stalking friend John Fowler, a wealthy railway engineer, whose portrait Millais also painted in 1868 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869 (Institute of Civil Engineers). Fowler was one of the great Victorian industrialists. In the 1850s and 1860s he was the leading engineer on the Metropolitan Railway in London, the world’s first underground railway and had been President of the Institute of Civil Engineers between 1865 and 1867. Later in life he was responsible for other major engineering projects, including the Forth Railway Bridge for which he was awarded a Baronetcy in 1890. Following Fowler’s death the watercolour was in the collection of Barnet Lewis whose collection of 115 watercolours by Myles Birkett Foster was offered at Christie’s on 3 March 1930.
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