Sir John Everett Millais
Production Date: 1885-1886
Model: Willie James
Note: The artist's grandson was the model for this work.
Current Location: Liverpool Museums, Lady Lever Art Gallery
Archival History: Purchased from the artist by Sir William Ingram, proprietor of the Illustrated
London News; sold to Thomas Barrett of A & F Pears, c.
1887; the work became part of the Unilever collection when Lever Brothers acquired A &
F Pears in 1914; on long-term loan by Unilever to the Royal Academy; on long-term loan by Unilever to Lady Lever Art Gallery
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
This type of subject was called a "fancy picture" and for some Victorian and modern audiences represents the degeneracy of Millais's style and his willingness to pander to the public's taste for sentimentalism. The work was made famous by it's incorporation in a Pears Soap advertisement, a purpose Millais never intended or condoned. DGR and others believed that Millais betrayed the early ideals of the PRB when he began to devote the majority of his time to painting for the lucrative portrait market.
This work takes up the sixteenth and seventeenth century tradition of memento mori painting. The bubbles are a reminder of the brevity of human life.