Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1829-1896)
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Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1829-1896)

John Wycliffe Taylor, at the age of five

Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1829-1896)
John Wycliffe Taylor, at the age of five
signed with monogram (lower right)
oil on panel
14 x 10 5/8 in. (35.6 x 27 cm.)
The artist, by whom given to
Tom Taylor (1817-1880), the sitter's father, December 1864, and by descent to his wife,
Mrs Tom Taylor (d. 1905), and by descent to the sitter,
John Wycliffe Taylor (d. 1905), and by descent.
Sale of his heirs; Christie's, London, 6 June 1997, lot 38, as A Portrait of John Wycliffe Taylor at the Age of Five, where purchased by the present owner.
Letter from Tom Taylor to his father-in-law, the Rev. Thomas Baker, 26 April 1864, unpublished.
M. H. Spielmann, Millais and His Works, Edinburgh and London, 1898, p. 170.
J. G. Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, President of the Royal Academy, London, 1899, vol. I, p. 383, and vol. II, p. 472.
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Exhibition of Works by Sir John Everett Millais, 1886, no. 111, as Portrait of Master Wycliffe Taylor, son of the Late Tom Taylor, Esq.
London, National Portrait Gallery, Millais: Portraits, 19 February - 6 June 1999, no. 34.
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Lot Essay

John Wycliffe Taylor, born 24 April 1859, was the son of the playwright Tom Taylor, Editor of Punch from 1874 to 1880 and an early champion of Millais's work. The boy’s portrait was painted in fulfillment of a promise that Millais made to Taylor before John was born; that if he ever had a son, Millais would paint the child in return for Taylor’s 'many an act of friendly kindness.' The portrait was begun not long before the boy's fifth birthday in 1864, though was not delivered until much later that year owing to a delay caused by the death of the artist’s mother in April. Taylor recorded his delight with the picture in a letter to Millais written on 27 December: 'My dear Millais,’ he wrote, 'I cannot allow the day to pass without thanking you for your beautiful portrait of our boy. It is an exquisite picture of a child, and a perfect likeness. Both his mother and myself feel that you have given us a quite inimitable treasure, which, long years hence, will enable us to recall what our boy was at the age when childhood is loveliest and finest… It seems to us the sweetest picture of a child even you have painted. If you would like to have it exhibited, I need not say it is at your service for the purpose.’ The work was truly an excellent likeness, as evidenced by a photo taken by Lewis Carroll (né Charles Dodgson) of the boy only a year before (fig. 1).

Indeed the family did treasure the picture for many years, as it remained with both of John Wycliffe Taylor’s parents until their deaths, and then with the family’s heirs until it was sold in these Rooms in 1997. Though Tom Taylor’s name is perhaps not immediately recognizable on its own, his best-known dramatic work holds a rather infamous place in American history. His comedy Our American Cousin, written in 1858, was the play that President Abraham Lincoln was attending at Ford’s Theatre when he was assassinated in 1865.

We are grateful to Dr Jason Rosenfeld for confirming the authenticity of this work.

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