Lady Lever – Artwork of the Month – August, 2006
‘Bubbles’, by Sir John Everett Millais
About the artwork
One of the most famous paintings by the Victorian artist Sir John Millais has been placed on long loan at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. It has been lent by Unilever.
‘Bubbles’ was painted in 1885-6. It shows a boy blowing bubbles with a pipe and a bowl of soap suds. The boy was the artist’s grandson, Willie James, aged about four: he later became an Admiral. To get round the problems of painting the bubbles, the artist had a glass sphere specially manufactured. Millais originally titled his painting ‘A Child’s World’ but it was later changed to ‘Bubbles’.
As a young man, Millais was one of the chief artists in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which set out to attack the complacency of the Royal Academy. He painted masterpieces such as ‘Isabella’ (Walker Art Gallery) and ‘Ophelia’ (Tate Britain) in a new style with bright colours, wiry outlines and minute detail. By the time he painted ‘Bubbles’, Millais was in his 50s. He had abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite style and had adopted darker colours and looser brushwork. No longer a rebel, he had joined the Royal Academy and had become a pillar of the art establishment. Much of his work at this stage in his career featured sentimental portrayals of small children. Other examples, at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, are ‘Little Speedwell’s Darling Blue’ and ‘The Nest’.
Free gallery talks Thursday 10 and Wednesday 23 August, 1pm.