Effie Gray  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Euphemia ('Effie') Chalmers Gray (1828 - 1897) was the wife of the critic John Ruskin, but later left her husband to marry his protege, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. This famous Victorian "love triangle" has been dramatised in several plays and an opera.

Relationship with Ruskin and Millais

Effie was born in Perth, Scotland and lived in Bowerswell, the house where Ruskin's grandfather had committed suicide. Her family knew Ruskin's father, who encouraged a match between them. In 1842, Ruskin wrote the fantasy novel The King of the Golden River for Effie. After their marriage in 1846, they travelled to Venice where Ruskin was researching his book The Stones of Venice. However, their different temperaments soon caused problems, with Effie coming to feel oppressed by Ruskin's dogmatic personality.

When she met Millais five years later, Effie was still a virgin, as Ruskin had persistently put off consummating the marriage. His reasons are unclear, but they involved disgust with some aspect of her body. As Effie later wrote to her father, "He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April" Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings. "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."

While married to Ruskin, she modelled for Millais' painting The Order of Release, in which she was depicted as the loyal wife of a Scottish rebel who has secured his release from prison. She then became close to Millais when he accompanied the couple on a trip to Scotland in order to paint Ruskin's portrait according to the critic's artistic principles. During this time, spent in Brig o'Turk in the Trossachs, they fell in love. Effie left Ruskin and she filed for an annulment, causing a major public scandal; their marriage was annulled in 1854. In 1855, Effie and John Millais married. During the marriage she bore Millais eight children, one of whom was the notable bird artist and gardener John Guille Millais. She also modelled for a number of his works, notably Peace Concluded (1856), which idealises her as an icon of beauty and fertility.

When Ruskin later sought to become engaged to a teenage girl, Rose la Touche, Rose's parents were concerned. They wrote to Effie, who replied by describing Ruskin as an oppressive husband. There is no reason to doubt Effie's sincerity, but her intervention helped to break up the engagement, probably contributing to Ruskin's later mental breakdown.

Effie's influence on Millais

After his marriage, Millais began to paint in a broader style, which Ruskin condemned as a "catastrophe". Marriage had given him a large family to support, and it is claimed that Effie encouraged him to churn out popular works for financial gain and to maintain her busy social life. However, there is no evidence that Effie consciously pressured him to do so, though she was an effective manager of his career and often collaborated with him in choosing subjects. Effie's journal indicates her high regard for her husband's art, and his works are still recognisably Pre-Raphaelite in style several years after his marriage.

However, Millais eventually abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with detail and began to paint in a looser style which produced more paintings for the time and effort. Many were inspired by his family life with Effie, often using his children and grandchildren as models.

Later life

The annulment barred Effie from some social functions. She was not allowed in the presence of the queen, so if the queen was present at a party then Effie was not invited. Prior to the annulment, she had been socially very active and this really bothered her. Eventually, when Millais was dying, the queen relented, allowing Effie to attend a royal function.

Effie died a few months after her husband. She is buried in Kinnoull churchyard, Perth, which is depicted in Millais's painting The Vale of Rest.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Effie Gray" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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