Effie Gray

Euphemia Chalmers Millais, Lady Millais (née Gray; 7 May 1828 – 23 December 1897) was a Scottish painter and the wife of Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. She had previously been married to the art critic John Ruskin, but the marriage was annulled, and she left him without it having been consummated. This famous Victorian "love triangle" has been dramatised in plays, films, and an opera.

Effie Gray
Gray portrait c. 1865 (she thought the portrait made her look like "a graceful doll")[1]
Gray portrait c. 1865 (she thought the portrait made her look like "a graceful doll")[1]
BornEuphemia Chalmers Gray
(1828-05-07)7 May 1828
Perth, Perthshire, Scotland
Died23 December 1897(1897-12-23) (aged 69)
Perth, Perthshire, Scotland
OccupationAuthor, artist
PeriodVictorian era
(m. 1848; ann. 1854)
(m. 1855; d. 1896)
Children8, including John Guille Millais

Early lifeEdit

Euphemia Chalmers Gray was born on 7 May 1828 to Sophia Margaret Gray (née Jameson; 1808–1894) and George Gray (1798–1877) in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland. Her father was a lawyer and businessman and her maternal grandfather, Andrew Jameson, was Sheriff-substitute of Fife.[2] She grew up at Bowerswell, an Italianate-style house near the foot of Kinnoull Hill.[2][3] Though she was given the pet-name "Phemy" by her parents as a child, she started to be known as "Effie" by the time she was a teenager.[4] Her sisters Sophie and Alice often modelled for John Everett Millais.

Relationships with John Ruskin and John Everett MillaisEdit

Albumen print photograph by Lewis Carroll from 21 July 1865 depicting Effie Gray, John Everett Millais, and their daughters Effie and Mary at 7 Cromwell Place, signed "Effie C. Millais".

John Ruskin wrote the fantasy novel The King of the Golden River for Gray in 1841, when she was 12 and he was 21. Gray's family knew Ruskin's father and encouraged a match between the two when she had matured. She ended up marrying Ruskin, after an initially unsteady courtship, when she was 19 years old on 10 April 1848.[5][6] During their honeymoon, they travelled to Venice, where Ruskin was doing research for his book The Stones of Venice. While in Perth, Scotland, they lived at Bowerswell, the Gray family home, and site of their wedding. It had, coincidentally, previously been the home of Ruskin's paternal grandparents. In 1817, Ruskin's mother, Margaret, during her engagement to Ruskin's father, had stayed at Bowerswell and was witness to three tragic deaths within its walls in quick succession (Ruskin's grandmother, grandfather, and newborn cousin). This caused her to develop a severe phobia of the place, keeping her from attending her son's wedding to Effie.[7][8]

Effie and Ruskin's different personalities were thrown into sharp relief by their contrasting priorities. For Effie, Venice provided an opportunity to socialise while Ruskin was engaged in solitary studies. In particular, he made a point of drawing the Ca' d'Oro and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), because he feared they would soon be destroyed by the occupying Austrian troops. One of the troops, Lieutenant Charles Paulizza, made friends with Effie, apparently with no objection from Ruskin. Her brother, among others, later claimed that Ruskin was deliberately encouraging the friendship in order to compromise her, as an excuse to separate.

When she met John Everett Millais five years later, she was still a virgin. Ruskin had persistently put off consummating the marriage. Gray and Ruskin had agreed upon abstaining from sex for five years to allow Ruskin to focus on his studies.[5] Another reason involved his apparent disgust with some aspect of her body. As she later wrote to her father:

He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening.[9]

Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings: "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."[10] The reason for Ruskin's disgust with "circumstances in her person" is unknown. Various suggestions have been made, including revulsion at either her pubic hair,[11][12] or menstrual blood.[13][14] Robert Brownell, on the contrary, in his analysis Marriage of Inconvenience, argues that Ruskin's difficulty with the marriage was financial and related to concerns that Effie and her less affluent family were trying to tap into Ruskin's considerable wealth.[15]

Waterfall, or Effie at Glenfinlas, 1853, by Millais

While married to Ruskin, she modelled for Millais' painting The Order of Release, in which she was depicted as the loyal wife of a Scottish rebel who has secured his release from prison. She then became close to Millais when he accompanied the couple on a trip to Scotland in order to paint Ruskin's portrait according to the critic's artistic principles. During this time, spent in Brig o' Turk in the Trossachs, they fell in love. While working on the portrait of her husband, Millais made many drawings and sketches of her. He also sent humorous cartoons of him, Effie and Ruskin to friends. She copied some of his works.

After their return to London, she left Ruskin, nominally to visit her family. She sent back her wedding ring with a note announcing her intention to file for an annulment. With the support of her family and a number of influential friends, she pursued the case, causing a public scandal and their marriage was annulled on the grounds of "incurable impotency" in 1854.[16] In 1855, she married John Millais and they had eight children together: Everett, born in 1856; George, born in 1857; Effie, born in 1858; Mary, born in 1860; Alice, born in 1862; Geoffroy, born in 1863; John in 1865; and Sophie in 1868. Their youngest son, John Guille Millais, was a notable bird artist and gardener. Effie also modelled for a number of her husband's works, notably Peace Concluded (1856), which idealises her as an icon of beauty and fertility. In 1885, her husband was elevated to the baronetage by Queen Victoria, having been created Baronet Millais of Palace Gate, in the parish of St Mary Abbot, Kensington, in the county of Middlesex, and of Saint Ouen, in the Island of Jersey.[17] Upon her husband's creation to the baronetage, Effie became entitled to the title Lady Millais.[17]

When Ruskin later sought to become engaged to a teenage girl, Rose La Touche, Rose's parents were concerned. They wrote to Effie, asking for her opinion of Ruskin as a husband, and she replied, describing him as oppressive. The engagement was broken off.

Influence on MillaisEdit

Gray in middle age, painted by Millais. She is holding a copy of the Cornhill Magazine.

Effie was an effective manager of Millais' career and often collaborated with him in choosing his subjects. Her journal indicates her high regard for her husband's art, and his works are still recognisably Pre-Raphaelite in style several years after his marriage.

However, Millais eventually abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with detail and began to paint in a looser style which produced more paintings for the time and effort. Many paintings were inspired by his family life with his wife, often using his children and grandchildren as models. Millais also used his sister-in-law, Sophie Gray, then in her early teens, as the basis of some striking images in the mid to late 1850s, provoking suggestions of a mutual infatuation.[18]

Later lifeEdit

Effie's grave marker, which is shared with her son, George Gray Millais, in Perth, Scotland

Effie had been officially presented to Queen Victoria on 20 June 1850. This was arranged by Lady Davy, a friend and neighbour of hers from London who was also friends with one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting.[19] However, the annulment from Ruskin barred her from events at which the queen was present. Her social status was affected negatively, although many in society were still prepared to receive her and to press her case sympathetically.[18] Eventually, when Millais was dying, the queen relented through the intervention of her daughter Princess Louise, allowing Gray to attend an official function. Sixteen months after Millais' death, Effie died at Bowerswell on 23 December 1897[20] and was buried in Kinnoull churchyard, Perth, which is depicted in Millais's painting The Vale of Rest. Gray's father had donated the Millais window, the West window, to Kinnoull Church in 1870. It is based on designs drawn by Millais.[21]

In drama and literatureEdit

Her marriage to Ruskin and subsequent romance with Millais have been dramatised on many occasions:


  1. ^ Euphemia ('Effie') Chalmers (née Gray), Lady Millais, National Portrait Gallery
  2. ^ a b Mervyn Williams (2012) Effie
  3. ^ http://www.doorsopendays.org.uk/media/3401/pk-doors-open-days-2017-programme_final.pdf
  4. ^ Fagence Cooper, Suzanne (2011). Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. St. Martin's Publishing Group. p. 12. ISBN 978-1429962384.
  5. ^ a b Walker, Kirsty Stonell (2018). Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang. Unicorn. p. 20.
  6. ^ James, William Milbourne, ed. (1948). The Order of Release: The Story of John Ruskin, Effie Gray and John Everett Millais Told for the First Time in their Unpublished Letters. University of Michigan: J. Murray. p. 1.
  7. ^ Henrietta Garnett (30 August 2012). Wives and Stunners: The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Muses. Pan Macmillan. pp. 227–etc. ISBN 978-0-230-76754-6.
  8. ^ Fagence Cooper, Suzanne (2011). Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. St. Martin's Publishing Group. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-1429962384.
  9. ^ Robert Hewison (1979). John Ruskin. Ardent Media. pp. 201–202. GGKEY:8PSQ7NGSATA.
  10. ^ Lutyens, M., Millais and the Ruskins, p.191
  11. ^ Phyllis Rose (1983) Parallel Lives
  12. ^ Franny Moyle (2009) Desperate Romantics
  13. ^ Peter Fuller, Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace, Chatto & Windus, 1988, pp.11–12
  14. ^ Suzanne Fagence Cooper (2010) The Model Wife: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais.
  15. ^ Prodger, Michael (29 March 2013). "John Ruskin's marriage: What really happened". Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  16. ^ National Records of Scotland, Annulment recorded in Kinnoull Kirk Session Minutes (NRS ref. CH2/948/7), 1854, pp.223–227.
  17. ^ a b "No. 25490". The London Gazette. 14 July 1885. p. 3239.
  18. ^ a b Suzanne Fagence Cooper (2010) The Model Wife: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais
  19. ^ Fagence Cooper, Suzanne (2011). Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. St. Martin's Publishing Group. p. 69. ISBN 978-1429962384.
  20. ^ James, W. (2008). The Order of Release – The Story of John Ruskin, Effie Gray and John Everett Millias. Read. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4437-0293-5. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  21. ^ "The Millais window"] - The Courier, 22 April 2020.
  22. ^ Dakota Fanning and Emma Thompson Team for 1850s Victorian Drama "Effie"

External linksEdit