Great Paintings: Trust Me by John Everett Millais (Interpretation and Analysis)

Trust Me
Source: Arthive

In the era before television and movies, visual art filled a unique role in society as both a source of entertainment and a medium for social and political statements. Thus, people in the Victorian age expected paintings to tell a story.

Art could entertain or instruct or impart a religious message, but it nearly always contained some kind of narrative. John Everett Millais’ 1862 painting Trust Me is an excellent example of this aspect of nineteenth century art.

The painting depicts a young woman and an older man, presumably a father and daughter, standing together in a breakfast room. The woman holds a letter behind her back while her father reaches out to take it from her. Although the daughter’s face is calm and impassive-not offering any hint to the contents of the letter-the father’s expression is stern and disapproving There is obvious tension in this scene, but the substance of the interaction is unclear.

Contemporary newspapers that reported on The Royal Academy exhibition enjoyed speculating about the nature of the letter. Some assumed it was a love letter from an unsuitable partner, while others guessed that it was blackmail. The blooming crocuses on the table in the background might suggest that burgeoning love is at the core of this painting, but it’s equally likely that the daughter is concealing the letter from her father because it contains bad news.

Only one thing is beyond doubt: One of the two figures has asked the other to trust them. Who has spoken and why remain a mystery. The viewer is left to wonder whether or not trust and confidence will prevail between these two people. As a writer at The Saturday Review noted:

All remains uncertain, and the painter has fully succeeded in perpetuating a moment of suspense.

Millais had a particular gift for creating these “moments of suspense.” His oeuvre is full of dramatic scenes that leave the viewer wondering (or dreading) what will happen next. The Somnambulist, Speak! Speak!, The Escape of a Heretic, and The Vale of Rest are just a few examples of this aspect of his work. However, Trust Me is a particularly mysterious piece of art.

The ambiguity of the painting was a source of fascination and entertainment for many contemporary viewers, and it continues to intrigue modern art lovers. There have been many interpretations of Trust Me.

If you want to learn more about this painting, check out this great essay. It was an excellent source for my research on this painting.

Originally published at on February 4, 2022.




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Maria Cristina

Maria Cristina

Music, Art, and Pop Culture

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