This painting and its companion-piece, Waking (fig. 1), were both exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, together with The Minuet (private collection). All three pictures were modelled by the daughters of the artist and his wife Effie, whom he had married in July 1855 after the annulment of her previous marriage to John Ruskin. Euphemia, or Effie, the eldest, posed for The Minuet; Mary, the second, for Waking; and the youngest, Alice Sophia Caroline, always known in the family as Carrie, for Sleeping. Born on 10 April 1862, Carrie would have been three or four when the picture was painted in 1865-6. According to J.G. Millais in his memorial biography of his father, 'the idea for "Sleeping" was suggested by seeing my sister Carrie, then a very little girl, fast asleep the morning after a children's party. Millais went to the nursery to look for the child, and found the French maid, Berthe, sewing beside the bed, waiting for her charge to wake up; and when sitting for this picture the little model used often to go to sleep in real earnest'. J.G. Millais maintained that all three pictures were 'exact portraits' of the sisters, 'not idealised in the slightest degree'.
Millais' phenomemal success and popularity were based to a considerable extent on his skill as a painter of childhood. He had begun to explore the field in 1856, when he exhibited L'Enfant du Rgiment (Yale) at the R.A., but the tendency took a more positive turn with the two well-known paintings My First Sermon and My Second Sermon (both Guildhall Art Gallery, London), shown at the R.A. respectively in 1863 and 1864; and the paintings of 1867 established it still further. Indeed in Sleeping and Waking, which are almost identical in size, Millais not only attempted to repeat the formula which had proved so popular before, but sought to give it still greater impact by exhibiting the two pictures together instead of in consecutive years.
If Millais was deliberately courting success, he was not to be disappointed. 'Mr Millais has taken from the nursery two of the most delightful pictures ever seen in the Academy ...', the Art Journal enthused in its review of the R.A. exhibition:
The sentiment of these picture makes irresistible appeal
to the public. Never since "My First Sermon" has Mr Millais
painted aught so popular. For technical qualities, too,
it is hard to conceive of work more perfect. The painting
of the coverlet has the freedom of a sketch with the suggested
finish of a Dutch picture. The surface texture of draperies,
and the varied tones of whites, are gained with equal facility
and truth. It must be confessed that the red ribbon thrust
in gratuitously is defiant. This is one of the daring eccentricities which a man conscious of power is apt to
indulge in. The picture, however, without this killing
dash of red, was in no danger of falling into commonplace.
It is strong in simple truth and nature.
The Times was even more enthusiastic, although it is true that its critic, Tom Taylor, was a friend of the artist. (Millais' portrait of Taylor's son Wycliffe was sold by Christie's in London on 6 June 1997, lot 38, and is included in the current exhibition of the artist's portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, no. 34). 'Examples of beauty ... rare and refined...', Taylor wrote,
are supplied by Mr Millais' two delightful pictures
"Sleeping" and "Waking", the former of which seems to
us the most beautiful picture the artist has ever painted,
and one of the chef d'oeuvres, indeed, of the English School. It represents a sweet little girl of three or four in
her day sleep, with the primroses and hyacinths she has
gathered, slipping from the relaxed grasp of her chubby
fingers. The sweet rosy face, with its silk-soft hair,
moist with the dew of slumber, shines out like a flower
from the surrounding white of the pillow and sheets. The
imitative painting of bed linen of the quilted satin couvrepied, the blue silk drapery over the head-rail
of the bed, and the fresh muslin frock, hanging at the foot
of the crib, with its audaciously gorgeous crimson sash,
ready for waking wear, is simply consummate, and it is the
best tribute to the exquisiteness of the child's beauty
that her head and hands hold their supremacy in the midst
of accessories finished almost to the point of illusion.
The "Waking" picture of another lovely brown-eyed,
brown-haired little one, sitting up in her crib, and
listening to the song of the caged bird that hangs beside
the bed, is only less charming than its companion, but
the sleeping beauty carries the day. All who see these
pictures will envy the possessors of them.
But perhaps the most interesting tribute was that paid by the French critic Philippe Burty in a long review of the Academy exhibition in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts. Burty was by no means uncritical of Millais; indeed he had harsh words to say of another picture by the artist in the same exhibition, Jephthah (National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff), comparing it to a collection of waxworks 'dans le clbre muse de Mme Tussaud'. But he was captivated by Sleeping, 'la plus exquise tude de Petite fille endormie que nous ayons encore vue'. Having enumerated its many beauties, he summed up: 'L'impression est saisissante. C'est l'Enfance, c'est le Sommeil, c'est la Puret, symboliss dans le plus adorable et, m'a-t-on dit, le plus fidle portrait, car c'est l la propre fille de l'heureux M. Millais'. Even this, however, was not his last word on the subject, as he could not resist going off into further raptures.
Stylistically, Waking and Sleeping still show traces of Millais' early Pre-Raphaelite style. J.G. Millais describes them as 'specimens of his later Pre-Raphaelite manner', and in 1909 the critic A.L. Baldry praised 'the minute and elaborate treatment' of their 'accessories', observing that 'in the precision of touch employed to define and realise every detail,' the artist had 'reverted almost to the unsparing labour of his Pre-Raphaelite days.' At the same time, there are signs of the bolder approach that Millais had already employed in Sir Isumbras (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) and The Vale of Rest (Tate Gallery), shown at the R.A. respectively in 1857 and 1859. He continued to move away from his early style in the later 1860s, adopting a still freer and more painterly idiom in such works as the Souvenir of Velazquez, his R.A. diploma picture of 1868, or The Boyhood of Raleigh of 1870 (Tate Gallery).
One of the most interesting aspects of Waking and Sleeping is their place in the early development of the Aesthetic ideal. Just as in certain pictures, notably Autumn Leaves (1856; Manchester) and Apple Blossom (1859; Viscount Leverhulme), Millais experiments with the 'subjectless' compositions that were one of Aestheticism's preoccupations, so Sleeping and Waking are attempts to realise the colour harmonies that were another of the movement's characterstic expressions. Indeed these 'harmonies in white' are perhaps his most positive statements of this kind. The Art Journal's reference to their 'varied tones of whites' has already been quoted, and M.H. Spielmann, in the monograph he produced to coincide with Millais' memorial exhibition in 1898, wrote that Sleeping was 'remarkable...chiefly for the triumphantly executed exercise in tone and texture in the white coverings of the bed'.
Millais' fellow Pre-Raphaelite D.G. Rossetti and Rossetti's most prominent follower Edward Burne-Jones both painted pictures based on colour harmonies in the 1860s. Rossetti's interest in the idea went back to the earliest days of Pre-Raphaelitism, his well-known Annunciation of 1850 (Tate Gallery) being a 'harmony in white' every bit as uncompromising as Millais' two pictures. But the artist most closely associated with this type of work was James McNeill Whistler, with his long series of pictures embodying some tonal effect, and called 'harmonies', 'symphonies' or 'arrangements' to underline their essentially decorative character. White was the colour that dominated Whistler's early essays in this genre. The first was the famous Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (National Gallery of Art, Washington), exhibited at the Salon des Refuss in 1863. Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl (Tate Gallery) appeared at R.A. in 1865, the year that Millais conceived Waking and Sleeping; while Symphony in White, No. 3 (fig. 2) was shown with Millais' two pictures at the R.A. of 1867.
The relationship between Millais and Whistler is interesting and complex. This is not the place to examine it at length, but two further points are worth making. First, it seems that Whistler admired Millais' attempts to paint 'symphonies in white' since a photograph exists in which an engraving of Waking (fig. 1) is seen hanging on the wall of the drawing-room at his house in Lindsey Row, Chelsea. Like so many Victorian artists, Millais owed much of his fame and fortune to engravings after his pictures, and Sleeping and Waking were both reproduced in mezzotint by Thomas Oldham Barlow, the prints being published in 1868. Barlow was an old friend of Millais'. He had already engraved My First Sermon and My Second Sermon, and he was to sit for the elderly ornithologist in the artist's painting The Ruling Passion of 1885 (Glasgow Art Gallery).
The second point to stress is the debt which both Millais and Whistler owed to music. 'All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,' wrote Walter Pater, summing up the widely held belief that music most perfectly expressed the Aesthetic ideal of an art of formal perfection, divorced from moral or narrative associations. Unlike Whistler, Millais did not seek to emphasise the parallel by giving his pictures musical titles, but his knowledge and understanding of music seem to have been much greater than those of the American artist. We know, moreover, that the relationship of music to painting was in his mind at this time, since the third of the childhood subjects exhibited in 1867, The Minuet, has a musical theme. The picture shows a grave little girl about to start dancing to the tune which her older companion plays on a spinet or early piano behind her.
One of the strangest things about the Aesthetic approach is that, for all its emphasis on abstract values, it did not preclude an element of symbolism or meaning. The extra-formal dimension was merely of a subtler or more ambiguous order than had hitherto been usual in Victorian painting. Critics saw Whister's White Girl as a picture of a young woman on the morning after her bridal night, not perhaps the artist's intention but certainly a possible reading of the image; and F.G. Stephens, the former Pre-Raphaelite Brother now turned art critic, had a comparably symbolic interpretation for Sleeping when he reviewed the Academy exhibition for the Athenaeum. The picture prompted him to consider the paradox that while an artist might not consciously be painting 'anything more obviously poetical than an exquisite combination of colours,' it was often possible to see in the result 'poetic ideas...rendered by pictorial associations'. For Stephens, Sleeping was a perfect example of a picture with such a 'double meaning, only one part of which ...was...obvious to the designer.' It showed 'a little girl...deep in rest and sunk in peace, just as the lush hyacinths that lie by her hand - the playthings of her pillow - fell from her fingers and closed their petals, assured of death. Here is the poetic suggestiveness of the picture, if not that of the artist: the girl sleeps, and will wake; the flowers, all beautiful though they be, will die, - indeed, as their cut stems show, are already dead.'
Possibly Stephens was wrong, and the 'poetic suggestiveness' of the picture was not entirely accidental. 'The language of flowers' was a concept that appealed enormously to the Victorians, and Millais was certainly not averse to exploiting this form of symbolism. The plants and flowers in some of his most famous pictures - for example, Ophelia, A Huguenot, or The Order of Release - are all open to allegorical interpretation (see the catalogue of the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1984, nos. 40, 41, 49). Bluebells (Stephens's 'hyacinths'), the flower most prominent in Sleeping, were associated with constancy and devotion, while primroses, as Tom Taylor identifies the yellow flowers, represent love. It is obvious that these details are formally of vital importance, the blue of the 'hyacinths' echoing that of the drapery over the head-rail, and the yellow of the primroses introducing a touch of the complementary colour. But is is surely not too fanciful to see the flowers also as a reference to the artist's affection for his sleeping child. Certainly this would harmonise with other evidence. In her Memorials of her husband, Lady Burne-Jones tells the following story. 'I remember hearing him and Millais once talk to each other about their daughters, each boasting that he was the most devoted father. "Ah, but you don't take your daughter's breakfast up to her in bed," said Edward, certain that the prize belonged to him. Millais' triumphant "Yes, I do!" left them only equal.'
The history of Sleeping has been the subject of some confusion. Waking was started first, in July 1865, and, according to Millais' bank account with Coutts, was bought, unfinished, by the dealers Moore, McQueen and Co. on 28 September for 1,000 guineas. On the following day Millais wrote to his wife to say that Moore had called again, 'and I have promised to paint him the pendant of a child asleep for another thousand guineas' (Millais Papers, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). Clearly the picture was more premeditated than J.G. Millais suggests, being the result of a definite commission rather than a chance visit to the nursery. On 4 December 1865 Moore, McQueen & Co. sold Waking to Agnew's, who seem to have taken over the commission for Sleeping as well. Agnew's stockbooks show that they bought the picture from Millais on 9 July 1866, presumably for 1,000 guineas.
Agnew's sold it to J.C. Harter, who lived, at least latterly, at The Cedars, Leamington, in Warwickshire. Harter had a good collection, consisting mainly of modern British paintings and watercolours and numbering some seventy items in all at the time of his death. Other artists represented included Cox, Faed, Linnell, Landseer, Mulready, Alma-Tadema and Poole. Sleeping was his only Millais, and undoubtedly one of the best pictures he owned. He lent it to the artist's retrospective exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886, and the following year to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition at Manchester. The label for this is still on the stretcher.
Following Harter's death, his pictures were sold at Christie's in April 1890. Sleeping realised 1,400 guineas and was acquired by Charles J. Shaw, who also lived in Leamington. It seems likely that he had known Harter, and bought the picture because he had long admired it. The fact that both collectors patronised the Leamington landscape artist Frederick Whitehead also suggests a connection. However, if Sleeping was one of Harter's best pictures, it must have completely upstaged most of Shaw's, which seem to have consisted mainly of indifferent Old Masters.
Shaw lent the picture to Millais' memorial exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1898, and kept it until his death. It then reappeared at Christie's in June 1926, going to the dealer Sampson for 800 guineas. This was considerably less than the price fetched in 1890, an interesting reflection of the decline in popularity of Victorian painting from at least the time of the first world war.
At this point the picture re-entered the Millais family, being acquired by Millais' daughter Carrie. We do not know if she commissioned Sampson to buy it for her or secured it some time later, but she certainly had it by 1934 when, in reply to an enquiry from the owner of a smaller and later replica (private collection), she wrote to a niece saying that she owned the original, which was 'here in this room where I write. It is lovely!' Nor can there be much doubt about why she had bought it; it clearly had sentimental value for her, evoking memories of posing for the principle figure some sixty years earlier.
By this date the child in the painting had become a woman of some consequence. On 6 January 1886, at the age of twenty-three, Carrie had married Charles Beilby Stuart Wortley (1851-1926). Millais marked the event by painting a portrait of his daughter, which was sold by Christie's in London on 25 October 1991, lot 60. Carrie was Charles's second wife, the first, a niece of the novelist Anthony Trollope, having died after giving birth to a daughter in 1881. The couple almost certainly met through Charles's elder brother Archie, who studied under Millais and became a popular painter of portraits and sporting subjects. (His best-known work is the familiar likeness of W.G. Grace at Lord's.) The brothers came from a distinguished family. Their father was The Rt. Hon. James Archibald Stuart Wortley, Q.C., M.P., who had been Solicitor General before his career was cut short by a stroke in 1857. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Bute, George III's unpopular prime minister, were among their ancestors, and they were not the only siblings (there were nine in all) to make a name for themselves in the arts or public life. One sister, Mary, Lady Lovelace, became deeply involved in the Arts and Crafts movement. A second, Caroline, wrote novels and married Burne-Jones's friend The Hon. Norman Grosvenor. A drawing of a third, Margaret, by Sir Edward Poynter, who painted murals at Wortley Hall for their cousin the 3rd Baron Wharncliffe in the 1870s, was sold by Christie's in London on 6 November 1995, lot 66. Charles himself was educated at Rugby and Balliol, and after being called to the Bar in 1876, went on to enjoy a long political career. He became Conservative M.P. for Sheffield in 1880, and remained an active member of the Commons until he was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Stuart of Wortley in 1916.
Carrie Stuart Wortley had inherited her father's feeling for music. In fact she and Sir Arthur Sullivan contributed notes on 'Millais' Love of Music' to J.G. Millais' Life and Letters of the artist. Charles Stuart Wortley shared her passion, music being the great bond between them, and both he and Carrie, who had been trained in the Clara Schumann tradition, were talented pianists. They would play together on two grand pianos in the drawing-room of their Norman Shaw house, no. 7 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Their special vehicles were the Schumann and Grieg concertos, with Carrie taking the solo part and Charles the orchestral arrangement.
The couple moved in cultured circles. Their closest friends included Sir Claude Phillips, the first Keeper of the Wallace Collection, and Frank Schuster, a wealthy patron of the arts among whose protgs was the young Siegfried Sassoon. They also, of course, knew many musicians. Paderewski was a frequent guest, and the family were on the warmest terms with Elgar, his wife, Alice, and daughter, Carice. Elgar called Carrie 'Windflower', after the themes of his Violin Concerto, which she had encouraged him to complete when he had threatened to abandon it. For both of them the friendship was a deep emotional and spiritual resource, and they remained intimate until the composer's death in 1934. Their correspondence was published in 1989 (see Edward Elgar: The Windflower Letters, ed. Jerrold Northrop Moore).
Carrie died on New Year's Day 1936, a decade after her husband and two years after she had written to acknowledge her ownership of Sleeping. The picture was inherited by her only daugher, Clare Stuart Wortley, who made her name as an art-historian, publishing articles in Old Master Drawings, Print Collector's Quarterly, and elsewhere. On Clare's death, unmarried, on 15 January 1945 the picture passed to her cousin, Edward Millais, and he still had it in 1967, when he lent it to the Millais exhibition at the Royal Academy. This show, in which Sleeping was seen with its companion-piece Waking for the first time since the memorial exhibition of 1898, was one of a series devoted to the major Pre-Raphaelites which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and collectively played a crucial part in reviving the artists' fortunes in recent times. Sleeping remained in Edward Millais' possession until 1969, when he sold it at Christie's and it was bought by a Millais family trust.
We are grateful to Dr Malcolm Warner and to Mr Martin Shaw for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.
Fig. 1, John Everett Millais, Waking, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 in. (91.5 x 71 cm.), 1865.
Courtesy of Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council, Scotland.
Fig. 2, James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No. III, oil on canvas, 20 x 30.1/8 in. (51.5 x 76.5 cm.), 1865-7. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham.
Courtesy of the Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York.