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Millais, John Everett - The Black Brunswicker



Type of Spiritual Experience


The painting depicts a Brunswicker about to depart for battle. His sweetheart, wearing a ballgown, restrains him, trying to push the door closed, while he pulls it open. …In a letter to his wife, Millais described his inspiration for the work:
‘My subject appears to me, too, most fortunate, .... It is connected with the Brunswick Cavalry at Waterloo...They were nearly annihilated but performed prodigies of valour... I have it all in my mind's eye and feel confident that it will be a prodigious success. The costume and incident are so powerful that I am astonished it has never been touched upon before. Russell was quite struck with it, and he is the best man for knowing the public taste. Nothing could be kinder than his interest, and he is to set about getting all the information that is required’.
The same letter states that he intends it to be "a perfect pendant to The Huguenot", Millais's first major success, which portrays a similar scene featuring two lovers gazing at each other longingly. [Source: Wikipedia]

The painting shows that Millais never lost or abandonned his understanding of symbolism.  It could not be more graphic – black and white, darkness and light, the uniform being a good foil for those who have little interest in understanding the symbolism.  In fact the uniform is perfect for conveying the message.

She is in silk [cocoon], she has a red armlet, he has a sword, impying that annihilation is to be achieved through love.  The wallpaper is green, there is a picture on the wall showing a horse.  There is a little dog.  The sword he is wearing is scythe shaped.  He is holding a plumed hat.

In effect, even when love had been requited, Millais still could summon the inspiration if he could find a way of painting a subject he wanted to without it causing any problems.

With four children [the painting was done in 1860] soon to be eight, to feed, Millais could not afford to annoy his patrons, but here he could paint what he wanted and not offend anyone – as no one except his fellow artists and he would understand the symbolism.

A description of the experience

The source of the experience

Millais, John Everett

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Being left handed