This picture is truly a rediscovery; though well recorded in the Millais literature, it has never been reproduced and has not been exhibited since its first appearance at the Royal Academy in 1873.
Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh was an important source for orientalism during the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite periods. First published in 1817, it had run to six editions by the end of that year and nineteen by 1839. Its illustrators included Richard Westall (1817), Kenny Meadows, Edward Corbould and T.P. Stephanoff (1846), and John Tenniel (1861). Further research would identify other paintings inspired by the poem; F.J. Wyburd (lot 184) was certainly among those who produced them. D.G. Rossetti parodied a line in a verse inscribed on a drawing of his dead wombat (1869; British Museum), an indication of Pre-Raphaelite familiarity with the poem which is also reflected in Millais' painting.
The picture was highly praised by F.G. Stephens in his Athenaeum review of the 1873 Academy. 'We may add to the list of the more important pictures by this artist the charming painting of a love-lorn damsel standing in a wood, holding half-destroyed flowers in her hands, and piteously meditating on her condition ... The richness and power of the colour in this picture make its conspicious; the tone is solid, and vigorously given. The face loses nothing; on the contrary, it gains much in pathos through its individuality, or what we may call its portrait-like character.'
Stylistically the picture seems to reflect Millais' admiration for Velazquez. 'Look well at Velazquez', he advised Frank Holl when he (Holl) was going to Spain. 'Study him, but don't copy him: he won't knock you down!' (Spielmann, op.cit., p.61). In his own work the most obvious product of this admiration was his RA Diploma picture, A Souvenir of Velazquez, 1868; but it is interesting that F.G. Stephens saw Velazquez' influence in a painting which Millais exhibited at the RA with ours in 1873, namely the famous portrait of Mrs Bischoffsheim (Tate Gallery). 'He has worked in the mood of Velazquez', Stephens wrote, 'and so far succeeded that Velazquez would not be ashamed of the result.'
We are grateful to Dr Malcolm Warner for his help in preparing this entry.