Joan of Arc

SIR JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS BT PRB PRA HRI HRCA (1829-1896)
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Joan of Arc (England, 1865)

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Oil on canvas
Signed with monogram lower left

Dimensions

82.00cm high
62.00cm wide
(32.28 inches high)
(24.41 inches wide)
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Provenance

F. T. Turner
His sale, Christie's, 4 May 1878 (bought Agnew for £735)
Sir William Cuthbert Quilter, Bt., M.P.
His sale, Christie's, 9 July 1909, lot 69 (bought Wood for £735)
Albert Salisbury Wood, who bequeathed it to Sir John Frost
Hugh Frost, and by descent to A.G.L. Meyer (1967)

Literature

Art Journal, 1865, page 167
Illustrated London News, 6 May 1865, page 439
M.H. Spielmann, Millais and his Works, Edinburgh, 1898, pages 79, 170, 183, illustrated page 83
John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, two volumes, London, 1899, I, page 286, II, page 47
Alfred Lys Baldry, Sir John Everett Millais, His Art and Influence, London, 1899, pages 30, 66, 114

Exhibition History

London, Royal Academy, 1865, number 208
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Works of Sir John E. Millais, Bart, R.A., 1886, number 11
London, Royal Academy, Works of the Late Sir John Everett Millais, Bart., President of the Royal Academy, 1898, number 16
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1901, number 317
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Jubilee Autumn Exhibition, 1922, number 35
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, and London, Royal Academy, PRB Millais PRA, 1967, number 67
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum (on extended loan)

Description / Expertise

John Millais turned to historical subjects in the 1860s. One of his most intense works on an historical theme, Joan of Arc, shows the figure of a young girl kneeling in prayer. Wearing a half-suit of armour and chain-mail and a red skirt, Jeanne D'Arc (1412-31) is shown at the moment when the voices of Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret give her courage to fight against the English. The Saints tell her that she must first raise the siege of the city of Orléans and then conduct King Charles VII of France to his coronation at Reims. Having accomplished all of this, she was prevented by the French patriots from returning to her home at Domrémy, and then captured by the Burgundians who in turn handed her over to the English. Sentenced as a heretic by a court of French churchmen, she was burned at the stake at Rouen by the English. A folk legend familiar in both France and England, Millais may also have known the story of Joan of Arc from Voltaire's burlesque La Pucelle (1755) or Robert Southey's drama Joan of Arc (1796). Shakespeare's Henry VI, another possible source for the present painting, offers a more sinister representation of Joan which hardly corresponds with Millais's admiring portrait of her brave resolution.

In compositional terms, the drama of the moment is emphasised by the frontal treatment of the figure, who occupies almost all of the picture space and with virtually no visual distraction in the peripheral areas. Millais's extraordinary natural facility in the handling of paint comes into its own in the treatment of the reflected highlights and gleaming texture of the armour. This display of painterly virtuosity was commented on by the critic of the Art Journal in 1865, on the occasion of the painting being first shown at the Royal Academy, where attention was drawn to the faithful realisation of steel armour (Art Journal, 1867, page 167). When the painting appeared at the 1898 memorial exhibition of Millais's works at the Royal Academy, a spiritual dimension was found, despite the figure being unmistakably a Victorian young woman, for the spirit is eternal- a world of faith, devotion, and strength of purpose is in the face and attitude in this figure kneeling before some shrine as she vows herself to France. (M.H. Spielmann, Millais and his Works, Edinburgh, 1898, page 79)