Sir John Everett Millais, Retribution, a pen and ink drawing

England, AD 1854

Millais (1829-1896) was a child prodigy who became, at the age of eleven, the youngest ever student at the Royal Academy. In 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at Millais' house. With his friends William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Millais rejected the dull idealization of the established artists of the time, and sought to recover the moral clarity and truth to nature of Italian medieval art. The unfamiliar realism of Millais' Christ in the Carpenter's Shop (1850, Tate Gallery, London) initially scandalized other artists and the public, but his precocious skill was evident and Millais swiftly became extremely popular and successful.

This drawing comes from a series of eleven contemporary scenes illustrating 'sin and temptation'. It demonstrates the moral tone and meticulous observation of a typical Pre-Raphaelite work. Millais shows a man caught out in his attempt at bigamy: his astonished fiancée displays her ringless finger, while pointing out the kneeling intruder's ring. The unacknowledged daughter leaps forward in recognition of her father's duplicity, while the son recoils with resentment.

At this time Millais had fallen in love with the wife of John Ruskin, Effie, whom he was to marry later in the year, when the Ruskins' marriage was annulled. Some of the themes of this series may have been suggested by Millais' distress at his inappropriate feelings for the wife of the champion of the Pre-Raphaelites.

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More information


J.A Gere, Pre-Raphaelite drawings in the (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

M. Lutyens, Millais and the Ruskins (London, John Murray, 1967)


Height: 214.000 mm
Width: 275.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1982-12-11-1



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