Thursday, March 6, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Black Brunswicker, 1860

The Black Brunswicker
Sir John Everett Millais, 1860
The Lady Lever Art Gallery

Sir John Everett Millais was known for his emotionally-charged, theatrical and highly detailed paintings. He preferred to paint scenes which featured figures which would tempt the viewer to touch them because of the highly tactile nature of their clothing and radiant skin. This painting is no exception.

In the composition, we see a young lady being embraced by a soldier in a historical scene. The soldier represents a member of the special troop of highly-trained German soldiers of 1809 known as The Black Brunswickers whose motto “Glory or Death” became widely known. The Black Brunswickers wore death’s heads on their helmets to reinforce their grisly anthem. This regiment suffered tragic losses at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.

For his subjects, Millais used Charles Dickens’ daughter, Kate, as the model for the girl, and a private in the Life Guards as the model for the soldier. At no point were the two ever in the same room. Each posed with a mannequin for preliminary studies.

Notice the folds of the woman’s dress. They invite the viewer to reach out and touch it to see if it is, in fact, real. Millais has included a figure of a dog to reinforce the humanity of the scene and has placed a reproduction of an engraving of Napoleon Crossing the Alps by J.L. David as a reminder of Waterloo.

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