Spring (Apple Blossoms) by Sir John Everett Millais - The Lady Lever Art Gallery

PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 February 2014

Spring Apple Blossom, by Millais

Spring Apple Blossom, by Millais

not Archant

Thoughts on a work of art you can see in one of the region’s public galleries

After a typically wet and wild British winter the promise of clement weather and the reawakening of nature fills our hearts with optimism. Spring is finally upon us.

Sir John Everett Millais was a prodigiously talented painter and one of the founding members of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. This group of young artists rebelled against the classical ideals of an art world still heavily influenced by the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds who wanted to portray a perfect idealised view of nature.

Millais, on the other hand, believed art should portray nature as it was, in all its flawed glory, which was a decidedly controversial stance in Victorian England.

Spring was completed when Millais was only 30 and still in the early stages of what was to be a glorious artistic career. He described his painting as a mood picture designed to move the viewer towards ‘the deepest religious reflection’.

At first glance we see a group of young ladies relax near an orchard enjoying a picnic of curds and whey on a pleasant spring day. They appear comfortable with themselves and with each other. The painting, however, conceals a hidden significance. The blossom emerging from the trees, the baskets of wild flowers and the flowers braided through the hair all symbolise the unstoppable passage of time. Youth is fleeting and transient and must be enjoyed while it lasts, before it is cut short by that which comes to us all in the end. Death is symbolised by the scythe on the right hand side of the painting.

The girl on the far left was Sophy Gray, Millais’ sister-in-law. She was Millais’ muse and it is thought that he grew increasingly infatuated with her. His wife Effie, who was previously married to Millais’ close friend, poet and fellow artist John Ruskin, eventually sent her sister away for fear she would tempt her husband away.

Effie’s life was cut tragically short at the age of just 38 amidst rumours of suicide. A film of Effie’s life starring Emma Thompson is due for release in May.

Admission to The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight is free.

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