Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Wednesday 9th December - My First Sermon

After yesterday's filth-fest I thought I ought to clean it up a bit for the sake of your moral wellbeing.  Today's image is one of cutesy innocence at its best...

My First Sermon (1863) John Everett Millais
Well, isn't that delightful?  Obviously, if you know your saccharine paintings of little girls, you'll know this is one of a pair.  Here's the other one...

My Second Sermon (1864)
 Do you see what he did there?  And he made everyone wait a year for the punchline.  That Millais, he's a right one.  Anyway, these two are pictures of Millais daughter Effie, an often-used model for her father (along with his other numerous kiddiwinks) and shows two scenes of a humorous nature.  The first picture shows a solemn little girl listening intently to a sermon in church, but by the time of the second sermon she has fallen asleep. It's not clear whether Millais had intended the pictures to be a pair when he started or if the chance of a pair presented itself when his daughter fell asleep while he worked.  However it happened he was to repeat the conceit of a conscious/unconscious child...

Sleeping (1865/6)

Waking (1865)
 There is an interplay between  the states of consciousness, how we keep looking at the child as they slip between sleeping and waking, waking and sleeping.  Millais' daughter Mary was the little girl in the bed and you feel there is an element of paternal pride in his images.  There is also a sense that we see what he sees on a daily basis, that we for a moment experience looking over the child as she sleeps.  I always feel that there is no 'side' to Millais, that his paintings are a straightforward transference of emotion from his brush to our eye, so I think he expects us to feel his parental responsibility, his amusement, his care.

In Victorian times, a child in a box was an acceptable Christmas gift...
Children's fashion in the 19th Century was usually a miniature version of adult clothes but with slight allowances for shape.  The little girl in My First Sermon is probably dressed much like her mother in a cloak, a little hat and a muff.  Her skirt is a little shorter, not covering her red stockings and button-boots.  There is something very cute about a child with a fluffy hand warmer, possibly because it is a cute accessory and resembles a cuddly toy.  Often it seems that the muff is too large for the child, adding to the cute factor.  The fact that our little girl has dozed off, her hat has come off, but her hands remain inside her muff adds to the 'ahh' effect.  In the same way that the child looks like an adult but fails, she cannot help but sleep as the sermon goes over her head.  In that way it is a celebration of the honesty of children, one denied adults for which we perhaps feel a little wistful. The first picture was a phenomenal success, probably adding to the impetus for a second, and was widely distributed as a print.  Millais knew a thing or two about business, no wonder he could afford to have that many children...

My present suggestion today is also to do with children...

I met Lindsay Smith at the Julia Margaret Cameron conference this summer and she was the chair of the panel I was on.  She also gave a fascinating paper on Lewis Carroll and his photography, both as a practitioner and a collector.  Carroll's acquisition of other people's pictures and his desire to 'collect' children puts a different slant on his interests.  It has always been very easy to brand Carroll's love of children as suspect, but in Lindsay's book she examines the different years and places in Carroll's life, what his motivations might have been and what his hobby before and after his actual photography career says about him.  I will doing a Q&A with Lindsay in the new year but her book is out today and I have no hesitation in recommending it.  It is wonderful quality, with not only Carroll's photographs but other in his collection, all presented in an accessible and fascinating manner. I now want to find out more about his photographs of children of famous parents, not mentioning any Tennysons, something I will undoubtedly be asking Lindsay about later...

Lindsay's book is available from Amazon UK (here) now and in January from Amazon USA (here).  I look forward to having a lovely chat with Lindsay and telling you all about it in the new year, but in the meantime her book is a very interesting read for those who want a bit more detail in this Alice anniversary year.

See you tomorrow...


  1. The charming paintings of Millais' little girl give the lie to the distant and stern Victorian father. He obviously adored his children and was not afraid to show it.

  2. Dear Kirsty
    Another link with Millais and Lewis Carroll/Tenniel was the illustration of Alice in the Train, from Through the Looking Glass where Tenniel has taken elements of the costume from Millais' My First Sermon/My Second Sermon for Alice's outfit.
    Best wishes

  3. Thank you both, and thanks Ellie especially for that link. I shall find out the picture and pop it on my Facebook page. If you are on FB, come and find my author page because I try and share more images and information that I don't have room for here or that are just gorgeous!

  4. The Millais' paintigs you've shared are among those I do prefer and love so much of his wide repertoire !
    Thank you for sharing them, it's always a deep, inner joy to watch them, my darling Kirtsy,
    with gratitude


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx