Sir John Everett Millais fuses elements of both figurative and landscape painting in The Blind Girl by depicting two girls sitting near a roadside in the foreground against the backdrop of an expanse of wide, open fields with a distant view of the town. This painting incorporates many traditional aspects of the PRB, but it also seems to make subtle departures. The painting contains "intensely luminous brilliance of colour" (Wood 37), and the light source evenly highlights nearly all of the contents within the painting, as the PRB dictated. The meticulous details with which Millais painted the individual blades of grass and weeds near the blind girl's hand, for example, also reflect his regard for the PRB's and Ruskin's desire for photographic representation. However, as the eye moves towards the background, the minute details become increasingly less specific though Millais successfully gives the impression that the depiction of the landscape looks precise. Furthermore, he seems to use the landscape to infuse more mood and emotion into the painting rather than merely depicting it for the sole purpose of photographic realism. In addition, the subject matter of The Blind Girl does not derive from literary sources such as Shakespeare nor does it depict a particular narrative recognized by the public. Rather, Millais relies on creating mood and emotion by means of his characters and the landscape in which he sets his painting.
1. The monarch butterfly on the blind girl's cloak incorporates the color palette that Millais uses to depict the blind girl's costume. The light brown and orange tone of her skirt adorns the wings of the butterfly, and the white and black of her blouse detail the wings as well. This color scheme creates a direct contrast against the dark brown of the blind girl's cloak. The butterfly, an insect traditionally tied to notions of beauty, may have been painted to imply that despite her severe disadvantages -- both physical and financial -- the blind girl possesses inherent beauty herself. Do you think Millais intended this? Did Millais deliberately choose this palette for the girl and the butterfly? Does the butterfly appear to carry any other symbolism? Does the location of the butterly mean anything?
2. How does Millais create mood and emotions into The Blind Girl? What mood does he want to convey?
3. Because the younger girl, perhaps the blind girl's little sister, acts as both their eyes (she most likely had been leading the blind girl down the road before being caught in the rain), she would normally be seen as the protecting, dominant figure. However, in the painting, the blind girl appears to grasp the younger one's hand comfortingly, and she uses her cloak to help cover her companion.
4. Many critics deem The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves (both painted in 1856) to be Millais's finest works. What aspects of these paintings may have led to such positive responses? Do these paintings have any significant similarities? Disparities?
- Empathy and Vividness in The Blind Girl
- Discussion of The Blind Girl in "Rainbows: problematic images of problematic nature" (from Landow, Images of Crisis)
Wood, Chrisopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. New York: Studio/Viking, 1981.
The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Tate Gallery/Allen Lane, 1984.
Last modified 28 September 2004