John Everett Millais's portrait of Lady Campbell (1861-1933) was one of three pictures Millais exhibited in 1884 at the Grosvenor Gallery, along with his portrait of the Marquess of Lorne, Queen Victoria's son-in-law (National Gallery, Ottawa), and Millais's image of Lady Campbell when she was a child, from fifteen years earlier (1868-9, fig. 1). It was characteristic of Millais to exhibit society portraits or images of politicians at the Grosvenor, where many of his patrons were frequent visitors. By contrast, in the same year he showed three portraits and an historical picture, An Idyll, 1745 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) at the Royal Academy of Arts, and three fancy pictures, Little Miss Muffet (private collection), A Message from the Sea (private collection), and The Mistletoe-Gatherer (private collection, on loan to the National Gallery of South Africa, Capetown) at Thomas McLean's more populist gallery on the Haymarket.
Of these nine new pictures, Lady Campbell was the most impressive offering of the year. Millais posed her in a fashionable cap-sleeved white evening dress, with its narrow shoulders and wide bust and a small bouquet of forget-me-nots fastened in front, and a triple-strand pearl necklace, and seated on an oak chest alongside her gloves and a blue Nankin vase filled with tulips. She holds a fan, and looks off to her right. Behind her is a loosely painted yellow floriated tapestry. Nina Lehmann's father commissioned this portrait, as he had the one of her as a child, and in some ways they complement each other. The red camellia held in the lap has been changed to a lady's fan, and the overlarge earthenware pot that the young Nina sits upon, with its drips of glazing along the bottom, has been replaced by a more elegant, refined, and smaller in scale to the sitter, Chinese Porcelain vessel.
The work was painted in the month leading up to Nina Lehmann's marriage, to Guy Theophilus Campbell, 3rd Bt, of Thames Ditton, born in 1854 and who served in the Afghan War of 1878-80. They married on 30 April 1884, just before the Grosvenor opened in the first week of May, and less than two years after he had succeeded as Baronet. They would have four boys and two girls. He died 12 September 1931, and she in 1933.
Millais's painting of Nina when she was a young girl (fig. 1) was titled Nina, daughter of Frederick Lehman, Esq., and he exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 1869. In that earlier picture, he employed a predominantly white tone and relaxed atmosphere as pursued in many of his images of young girls-such as Spring (1856-9, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) and Sisters (1868, lot 8). The picture was calculated to appeal to clients with evolved tastes. The sitter's father, Frederick Lehmann (1826-91) was a businessman, violinist, and musical aficionado whose wife, born Jane Gibson Chambers but known as Nina (b. 1830), was a pianist. She was the daughter of the publisher Robert Chambers, founder of the Edinburgh Journal. Lehmann made his fortune dealing arms in the American Civil War. One of his brothers was Henri Lehmann (1814-82), a pupil of J.A.D. Ingres, and the other was Millais's friend, Rudolf Lehmann (1819-1905), also a painter, who lived at Worth Villas, Campden Hill, and who married Jane Chambers's sister Amelia. The Lehmanns were close to Millais's friends such as the novelist Wilkie Collins, musicians including the violinist Joseph Joachim, the conductor and pianist Charles Hall, and other members of English musical society. The Lehmanns held frequent musical evenings for London's artistic society in their house at 15, Berkeley Square. In addition, Lehmann's sister Eliza, married Ernst Benzon, and the Benzons would also become patrons of Millais. It was through society connections that Millais gained the first commission to paint Lehmann's daughter, and then to paint her again to celebrate her marriage.
Millais was working on the portrait in early April, when he wrote to his daughter Mary, 'I have finished my pictures for the RA and they have been sent away this morning so I feel a load taken off my back. Your Uncle William was here yesterday and showed the public my works. I believe some hundreds came, but I went out to avoid the Crowd. I have one day's holiday tomorrow and then I have Nina Lehmann sitting to me, as her Father is very anxious for her portrait to go to the Grosvenor gallery. All the pictures are very much liked and I shall set about doing the other Commissions from Mr. Wertheimer'. (John Everett Millais to Mary Millais, at 31, Devonshire Terrace, W.impole Street, from Palace Gate, dated 7 April 1884, Pierpont Morgan Library, Millais Papers MA.1485).
The opulence of this portrait, and the interest in fashion and elegant environs was a later and more modern manifestation of the Georgian revival that Millais had spearheaded in the 1860s with portraits such as Sisters (1868, lot 8). Here, Millais worked in a mode that reflected concerns in contemporary continental art, where artists like Pierre Auguste-Renoir collaborated with sitters such as Madame Georges Charpentier, posed in 1878 with her two children in her apartment and surrounded by a litany of forms associated with the pan-European Aesthetic Movement. Such paintings represented cultivated tastes in clothing and accoutrements (often Asian in style), and also bore elegant and evocative brushwork free from the detailed description of Millais's earlier Pre-Raphaelite style.
As Claude Phillips wrote in The Academy of the Grosvenor Gallery display of 1884, 'It was a somewhat bold venture on the part of Mr. Millais to have placed in juxtaposition his superb and well-remembered portrait of 'Miss Nina Lehmann' (57), painted in 1869, and his new portrait of the same lady - now Lady Campbell - (62). The former is one of his most complete and admirable works, and is one to which Englishmen are glad to point as an example of perfect technique from the hand of one of their painters. The new portrait, though in it the master-hand is still visible, and there is much to admire - especially the elegant pose and treatment of the head - does not support comparison with the earlier one either as regards the painting of the flesh, the complete and harmonious rendering of the surroundings, or general charm and accomplishment'.
Yet in the same year the critic Henry Blackburn called Millais 'the greatest living portrait-painter,' and Phillips's opinion resonated more in the 1880s, when Millais's more finished child images, whether portraits or fancy pictures, were routinely and favourably compared to the Georgian era works of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, than today. Now, it is Millais's more freely painted and suggestive portraits of women such as Hearts are Trumps (1872, Tate), Louise Jopling (1879, National Portrait Gallery), and Kate Perugini (1880, private collection) that seem his most advanced works, and reveal him to be one of the finest portraitists of the period, and the painter who laid the groundwork for John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini and the next generation of European portraitists.
We are grateful to Jason Rosenfeld, Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, for providing this catalogue entry.