We all know that art is a form of storytelling, but we forget that there are sometimes even more interesting stories hidden behind that artwork.
Case in point...
"The Waterfall" by John Everett Millais, 1853, oil
John Everett Millais painted this careful study of a woman beside a stream during a painting trip to Scotland. The woman is Effie (Euphemia) Gray, the wife of John Ruskin.
During the long days that it would have taken to paint this picture, one can imagine John and Effie getting to know each other. Effie was unhappy in her own marriage to Mr. Ruskin, in part because of a very awkward situation that unfolded on the Ruskin's wedding night.
Until his marriage, Ruskin's idea of women's bodies had derived from his encounters with classical statues and paintings. Confronted by the reality of Effie's nude body on the wedding night, he was shocked and dismayed.
No one knows for sure what exactly blew his mind: it might have been either the pubic hair or the menstrual blood. Some have argued recently that the sensual reality of woman's body conflicted with Ruskin's mental image of an idealized young female. Others have argued that Ruskin was a pedophile as he later had relationships with girls very much his junior. (though many believe that he never had any sexual relations within his lifetime) The way Ruskin put it later at the annulment proceedings: "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."
Millais and Effie had fallen in love, but this led to a big problem, because the whole point of the Scotland trip was for Millais to paint a standing portrait of Ruskin in a natural setting. Having established the natural backdrop, Millais returned to London, where Ruskin posed for him in the studio. Millais called it "the most hateful task I have ever had to perform."
"John Ruskin" by John Everett Millais , 1953-1954, oil on canvas
After the portrait was completed, Ruskin and Millais broke off relations, and Ruskin's marriage was on the rocks. Effie, still a virgin, sued for annulment.
Ruskin may have been turned off by Effie, but Millais wasn't. They married in 1854 and had eight children together.
If this story interests or fascinates you, then you'll have a chance to see more in the upcoming movie 'Effie' which was written by actress extraordinaire Emma Thompson. ( who also acts in it)
I'm excited about one of my favorite art movements finally coming back into vogue and am looking forward to seeing the pre-Raphaelites' artwork finally taking it's much deserved spotlight. I'm also a huge fan of Emma Thompson so I'm REALLY excited to see this upcoming film which was released in the UK on March 4th, but currently has no US release date. Hopefully it will be brought across the pond soon! :)
To read more about John Ruskin
To read more about John Everett Millais
To learn about the Pre-Raphaelites