Great Paintings: Portrait of Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais

There are few artistic movements more aesthetic than the Pre-Raphaelite age. Pre-Raphaelite artists strove to create beautiful artwork that was also serious and meaningful. John Everett Millais was one of many who were inspired by a desire to create serious and realistic art that was also pleasing to the eye.

While Millais is most famous for his gorgeous and evocative painting of Shakespeare’s famous painting Ophelia, his Portrait of Sophie Gray is an often overlooked masterpiece. Sophie Gray was the younger sister of Millais’ wife, Effie, and she was something of a muse to her brother-in-law. Sophie lived with her sister and brother-in-law for several years when she was young and modeled for several of Millais’ paintings. However, it is his portrait of Sophie at age fourteen that is most memorable.

Young Sophie Gray stares defiantly out from her portrait, fixing viewers with a bold, challenging stare. Her eyes capture a powerful and determined personality, and her expression is absolutely captivating.

It is evident that Millais had deep regard and respect for this little girl. However, the piece also returns to a theme that Millais returned to again and again in his work: transition. In particular, Millais created several paintings that explored the idea of growing up; here, he captures Sophie on the border of childhood and young adulthood, a critical moment in her growth and development. Some critics have even pointed out that the heart motif on Sophie’s dress might be a symbol of her growing maturity and entrance into womanhood. The vibrant colors and careful composition add an extra level of vibrancy and intensity to the piece.

Many artists earned their livelihoods by painting portraits, but few convey such a deep sense of personality as Millais’ Portrait of Sophie Gray. It’s one of my personal favorites.

Originally published at on November 7, 2020.




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