Effie Gray

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Effie&john.jpg
photograph by Lewis Carroll of Effie Gray and John Millais with two of their children c1860, signed by Effie.
Euphemia ('Effie') Chalmers Gray (1828 - 1897) was the wife of the critic John Ruskin but later left her husband to marry his protege, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. This famous Victorian "love triangle" has been dramatised in several plays and an opera.

Relationship with Ruskin and Millais

Effie was born in Perth, Scotland. Her family knew Ruskin's father, who encouraged a match between them. After their marriage they travelled to Venice where Ruskin was researching his book The Stones of Venice. However their different temperaments soon caused problems, with Effie coming to feel oppressed by Ruskin's dogmatic personality. When she met Millais five years later Effie was still a virgin, as Ruskin had persistently put off consummating the marriage. She became close to Millais when he accompanied the couple on a trip to Scotland in order to paint Ruskin's portrait according to the critic's artistic principles. She modelled for Millais' painting The Order of Release, in which she was depicted as the loyal wife of a Scottish rebel who has secured his release from prison. As Millais painted Effie they fell in love. Effie left Ruskin and she filed for an annulment, causing a major public scandal. In 1855, after her marriage to Ruskin was annulled, Effie and John Millais married. During the marriage she bore Millais eight children. She also modelled for a number of his works, notably Peace Concluded (1856), which idealises her as an icon of beauty and fertility.

When Ruskin later became engaged to a teenage girl, Rose la Touche, Rose's concerned mother wrote to Effie, who replied by describing Ruskin as an oppressive husband. There is no reason to doubt Effie's sincerity, but her intervention broke up the engagement, probably contributing to Ruskin's later mental breakdown.

Effie's influence on Millais

After his marriage, Millais began to paint in a broader style, which Ruskin condemned as a "catastrophe". Marriage had given him a large family to support, and it is claimed that Effie encouraged him to churn out popular works for financial gain and to maintain her busy social life. However, there is no evidence that Effie consciously pressured him to do so. Effie's journal indicates her high regard for her husband's art, and his works are still recognisably Pre-Raphaelite in style several years after his marriage. Whatever the cause, Millais eventually abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with detail and began to paint in a looser style which produced more paintings for the time and effort. Many were inspired by his family life with Effie, often using his children and grandchildren as models.

Later life

The annulment barred Effie from some social functions. She was not allowed in the presence of the queen, so if the queen was present at a party then Effie was not invited. Prior to the annulment, she had been socially very active and this really bothered her. Eventually, when Millais was dying, the queen relented, allowing Effie to attend a royal function.

Effie died a few months after her husband. She is buried in Kinnoul churchyard, Perth, which is depicted in Millais's painting The Vale of Rest.

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