Skip to main content Skip to site map (in footer)

Millais portrait that triggered a pre-Raphaelite love triangle acquired for the nation

  • Date: 20 May 2013
  • Area: National
painting of an older Victorian man (John Ruskin) standing on a backdrop of rocks

John Ruskin, by John Everett Millais. Credit: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

A painting at the heart of a Victorian scandal has been acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by Arts Council England.

John Everett Millais' portrait of the influential 19th century art critic and philanthropist John Ruskin has been permanently allocated to the Ashmolean Museum.

A love triangle

While painting John Ruskin in the Trossachs in Scotland in 1854, pre-Raphaelite artist Millais and Ruskin's wife Effie fell in love. On returning to England, Effie applied to have her marriage to Ruskin annulled on the grounds that it was never consummated.

Ruskin subsequently fled to the continent and Millais and Effie were married the following year, but Effie's reputation never recovered.

New film release inspired by the story

The story has since inspired numerous books, plays, an opera and a silent film. And later this year a film called Effie, inspired by this famous love triangle, will be released. The film is written by Emma Thompson and stars Dakota Fanning, Tom Sturridge and Julie Walters.

First work painted outdoors

The portrait of Ruskin itself is thought to be the last of the great pre-Raphaelite portraits to be in private ownership. The largest of his portraits at the time, it was also Millais' first attempt at painting outdoors en plein air.

Peter Bazalgette, Chair, Arts Council England, said:

'It's wonderful that such a celebrated portrait is now on permanent public display at the Ashmolean Museum. This was one of the finest pieces at the Tate's sell-out exhibition on the pre-Raphaelites, and can now be admired by even more people.

'Acceptance in Lieu is an important part of the Arts Council's work. Thanks to this scheme, unique cultural objects which for years may have been glimpsed only in textbooks are once again being displayed for everyone to enjoy.'

New home at the Ashmolean Museum

The painting will be reunited at the Ashmolean Museum with one of Millais' preparatory sketches for the portrait.

Professor Christopher Brown CBE, Director, Ashmolean Museum, said:

'We are hugely grateful to the Arts Council for their support in allocating this extraordinary picture to the Ashmolean. This portrait is of supreme importance for the study of 19th century British art and it will be shown with the museum's world-renowned pre-Raphaelite collection.'

Learn more about the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.