Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Christmas Eve" by John Everett Millais

This is John Everett Millais's magnificent Christmas Eve (1887), an oil on canvas lent to Tate Britain from the private collection of the late Sir Paul Getty. It's currently part of the Millais blockbuster exhibition taking place at the museum through 13 January.

Say the curators: "This picture was painted from Murthly Castle, the seat of Sir Archibald Douglas Stewart, 8th Baronet of Murthly, who annually rented Birnam Hall, a large lodge in the garden of the castle, to the Millais family. The tower in the painting dates from the fifteenth century. There is a stillness to the picture, but a sense of human presence is none the less conveyed in the snow: cart grooves, human footprints, and possibly the tracks of a dog."

Murthly Castle is located near Dunkeld in the Highlands of Perthshire, Scotland, where Millais and his Perth-born wife, Effie (the former wife of John Ruskin), made their first home. Laura Gascoigne's recent article for The Spectator, "Scottish love affair," details Millais's affection for this area, which, according to his son, he "knew by heart . . . every bit of the ground and every turn of the [Tay] river."

Some critics have called this picture "bleak" but bleakness is not the emotion it inspires in me. What I feel instead is that serenity unique to midwinter dusk, just before the afternoon light fades into gathering night. Millais paints an unseasonably mild Christmas Eve: instead of the snap of frigid air he gives us the smell of damp earth and leaves, with melting snow no deeper than the jackdaws' knees. Is it warm or cold within the castle's harled rubble walls? You decide.

By the way, although the castle remains a private family home, it can be rented for weddings and other events. The Chapel of St Anthony the Eremite in the castle grounds was updated in 1843-45 by James Gillespie Graham and AWN Pugin and features a fresco by Alexander Christie depicting the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine. It was the first Catholic place of worship in Scotland to be dedicated after the Reformation.


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

What a great post. I just went to see the Millais exhibit at the Tate Britain in London in November. I'll definitely add your blog to my links.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see this on Christmas Eve, I've photographed the castle from this spot too.
possibly worth a link.

Olivia Peyton said...

Linking this to Pre-Raphaelite Passions on Facebook:
Many thanks!

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