Birthday: May 7, 1828
Women Artists & Painters
Died At Age: 69
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Euphemia Chalmers Millais
Born Country: Scotland
Born in: Perth, United Kingdom
Famous as: Artist
Spouse/Ex-: John Everett Millais (m. 1855–1896), John Ruskin (m. 1848–1854)
father: George Gray
mother: Sophia Margaret Gray
siblings: Sophy Gray
children: 2nd Bt, 4th Bt, Alice Sophia Caroline Millais, Effie Gray Millais, George Gray Millais, John Guille Millais, Mary Hunt Millais, Sir Everett Millais, Sir Geoffrey William Millais, Sophia Margaret Jameson Millais
Died on: December 23, 1897
Euphemia “Effie” Chalmers Millais, Lady Millais (nee Gray), was a Scottish artist and author. Her second husband was Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. Before that, she was the wife of art critic John Ruskin, but their marriage was not consummated before it was annulled. This popular Victorian love triangle has inspired numerous works of literature, plays, TV shows, films, as well as an opera. Gray was the writer of ‘Effie in Venice: Unpublished Letters of Mrs. John Ruskin Written from Venice Between 1849 – 1852’ and Selling Light’, which was published for the first time in 2008. Encouraged by her family members, who were acquaintances of Ruskin’s father, the possibility of a match between Gray and Ruskin began to be entertained. They were married for about six years between 1848 and 1854, but it was loveless and unhappy as Ruskin chose to never consummate it. She was still a virgin when she first encountered Millais. They exchanged wedding vows in 1855 and were married until his death in 1896. She had a significant influence on Millais, who adopted a broader style of painting after the marriage. She later effectively served as his manager and collaborator in selecting his subjects.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 7, 1828, in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland, Euphemia Chalmers Gray was the daughter of Sophia Margaret Gray and George Gray. She had a nickname as a child, "Phemy", which was later changed to "Effie". Gray was raised with a sister named Sophy, and at least one brother.
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Marriage to John Ruskin
Effie Gray’s family members had become acquainted with Ruskin’s father, and they believed that a union between Gray and Ruskin would be a good idea. She was the muse for his 1841 fantasy novel ‘The King of the Golden River’.
She was 20 years old when the wedding took place in 1848. They subsequently went to Venice, where Ruskin conducted research for his book ‘The Stones of Venice'. They later returned to Perth, Scotland, and resided in the Bowerswell House, where Ruskin’s grandfather had committed suicide by slashing his throat open in 1817. At some point, they travelled to London and began living there.
Gray and Ruskin were people of two extremely contrasting personalities and had completely different expectations from life. For Effie, Venice exposed her to the wider society, while Ruskin immersed himself in his solitary research. He took special care in drawing the Ca' d'Oro and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), being afraid that they would be demolished by the occupying Austrian troops.
One of these soldiers, Lieutenant Charles Paulizza, became a friend of Effie, ostensibly with no resistance from Ruskin. According to her brother and others, Ruskin was intentionally encouraging a relationship to develop between Effie and Paulizza, so it would serve as a ground for separation.
She encountered Millais for the first time about five years later. At the time, she still remained a virgin, as Ruskin had refused to consummate the marriage. He and Effie decided not to have sex, so he could concentrate on his studies. Another reason, according to Effie, was his revulsion to certain aspects of her body. In one of her letters to her father, she discussed this.
Ruskin later corroborated this in his statement to his lawyer while the annulment proceeding was happening. The exact cause of his revulsion is not known. Some have speculated that he was disgusted by her pubic hair or menstrual blood.
However, Robert Brownell, in his analysis ‘Marriage of Inconvenience’, postulates that Ruskin’s problem with the marriage stemmed from his belief that Effie’s family, which was considerably less wealthy than him, had ensnared him into marrying her for financial reasons.
Effie Gray was still married to Ruskin when she modelled for Millais for the first time, for ‘The Order of Release, 1746’ (1853), in which he drew her as the loyal wife of a Scottish rebel who is set to be released from prison.
She and Millais became closer during the trip that Ruskin, Effie, and Millais took together to Scotland. Millais was there to work on a portrait of Ruskin that would adhere to the latter man’s artistic principles. Effie and Millais developed intense feelings for one another during this period.
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As Millais was painting Effie’s husband, he made several sketches of her and drew numerous cartoons of himself, Effie, and Ruskin, mailing them to his friends. Effie often emulated his works.
When they came back to London, Effie left Ruskin on the pretext of visiting her family. She later mailed her wedding ring back to him, along with a note in which she declared that she was going to pursue an annulment. She had the backing of her family and several friends who were prominent members of the society.
Her lawsuit was successful, resulting in a major public scandal. The presiding judge granted her annulment on the premise of “incurable impotency” in 1854.
Marriage with John Everett Millais
In 1855, Effie Gray and Millais tied the knot. In the ensuing years, she gave birth to their eight children: Everett (born 1856), George (1857), Effie (1858), Mary (1860), Alice (1862), Geoffroy (1863), John (1865), and Sophie (1868). She served as a model in many of her husband’s works, including ‘Peace Concluded’ (1856), which depicts her as the icon of beauty and fertility.
Ruskin later attempted to get engaged to a teenage girl, Rose La Touche, who was his treasured pupil, “pet”, and the muse for the book, ‘Sesame and Lilies’ (1865). The girl’s concerned parents reached out to Effie, asking her about the marriage. In her response, she dubbed Ruskin an “oppressive husband”. The engagement was subsequently called off.
Her influence on her husband’s work is abundantly clear. After they got married, Millais adopted a broader style, which Ruskin criticised as a “catastrophe”. He had a large family to provide for, and there are unsubstantiated claims that he attempted to put out popular works for financial gain.
She effectively performed the duties of a manager for her husband and regularly worked with him in picking his subjects. According to her journal, she revered her husband’s art, and his paintings were still Pre-Raphaelite numerous years after the wedding.
Ultimately, Millais gave up on the Pre-Raphaelite fervour with detail and started to create paintings which were distinctively loose in style. This was because he wanted to paint more, investing less time and effort. The subjects of many of his paintings were his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Later Years & Death
The annulment from Ruskin prevented Effie Gray from appearing at various events alongside Queen Victoria. This troubled both her and her husband, especially because she had been an exceptionally social individual. However, she still found people who were willing to listen to her and sympathetically advocate her case before the crown.
In the final days of Millais’ life, the queen finally let Effie come to a function after Princess Louise spoke to her mother on Effie’s behalf.
Millais died on August 13, 1896. Sixteen months later, on December 23, 1897, Effie passed away in Perth, Scotland. She was 69 years old at the time. She is interred at Kinnoull churchyard, Perth.
Throughout the years, Effie Gray’s story has been adapted numerous times. Some of the films made on her relationships with Millais and Ruskin are ‘The Love of John Ruskin’ (1912) and ‘Effie Gray’ (2014).
Their love triangle was the plot of the TV shows ‘The Love School’ (1975) and ‘Desperate Romantics’ (2009); radio plays ‘Dear Countess’ (1983), ‘Parrots and Owls’ (1994), and ‘The Order of Release’ (1998); plays ‘The Countess’ (1995) by Gregory Murphy and 'Mrs Ruskin' (2003) by Kim Morrissey; the novel 'John Ruskin's Wife' (1979) by Eva McDonald; and the opera ‘Modern Painters’ (1995).