Yes, yes, we all love Ophelia, floaty lady, little robin, all that stuff. That wasn't the one I was talking about, because although we love Ophelia I have rarely seen the level of reaction to it as to this gem...
|Portrait of a Girl (1857) John Everett Millais|
|Sophia, aged 11|
Unfortunately for Sophy, she became a part of the mess her sister's marriage became, being pulled from one camp to another as the Ruskins and the Grays dismantled all goodwill and reason. The affect this must have had on the feelings of a child, a very intelligent child, can only be speculated about but is worth bearing in mind.
|Autumn Leaves (1855-56) J E Millais|
|Apple Blossoms (Spring) (1856-9) J E Millais|
Portrait of a Girl (or Sophy Gray) is a very difficult picture. It is stunningly beautiful, direct, sensual and confrontational, but at the same time is a picture of a child. In some ways it shares heritage with The Bridesmaid rather than this image of her sister.
|Alice Gray (1857)|
|The Bridesmaid (1851)|
Painted in the same year as the image on the right of her sister Alice, the portrait Millais produced of Sophy is unmistakably sexually charged. While Alice appears cherubic and charming, Sophy is a chin-tilt towards sex, much like the earlier image of the bridesmaid who is longing to dream of her own lover. Alice appears to have a pair of wings strapped to her, with the hint of halo in her hair, whereas her sister has her heart on display with a viola, or 'heartsease' in the centre. I am torn between thinking it was an actual piece of clothing that Sophy owned, or else Millais used the flower to symbolise some romantic matter that the young girl was involved with, which seems in keeping with the manner he chose to display her.
Interestingly, unlike other family portraits, the striking painting of Sophy was not kept in the family and was sold to George Price Boyce who hung her beside this image...
|Bocca Baciata (1859) D G Rossetti|
A reason for the disposal of the portrait might have been to do with the apparent cooling in relations between Effie and Sophy due to the heating-up between Millais and his sister in law. This strikes me as a similar rumour to the Rossetti-May Morris gossip. It is entirely likely that Sophy liked her brother-in-law and his regard for her, resulting in one of his finest works, is obvious, but seeing as he had just risked all for one woman, it is unlikely he'd bother messing about with her little sister. Also, when the Millais moved to London then Sophy was invited to visit regularly and when Sophy became ill, her sister was frequently at her bedside.
|Sophia Gray (c.1880) Charles Perugini|
|Beatrix Caird (1879) J E Millais|
|Sophia Caird (1880) J E Millais|
Sophy died in 1882, aged only 38. The cause of death was given as exhaustion and atrophy of nervous system over 17 years, which sounds like a euphemism for struggling to find a physical reason for her ongoing mental illness. There are predictable rumours that she killed herself, but so far they have remained without any further proof than she was mentally ill.
Little Beatrix died in 1888, aged only 14, the same age her mother had been in the most famous portrait of her.
If it is ever released, the upcoming film Effie will have a portrayal of Sophy. We have to currently wait until September for that...