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Millais, Dickens and the ‘idea’ of a picture by Paul Shaw

One of the earliest works Millais painted under the new Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood banner was later known as Christ in the House of His Parents (1848-9), first exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1850. It created a critical furore, one of the most virulent attacks coming from Dickens in Old Lamps for New Ones. Dickens is clearly enjoying himself, a rollicking piece of knockabout journalism. Is it worth taking seriously? I want to argue in this article that it is, partly for the light it sheds on Dickens’s attitude to Christianity but equally importantly for what it tells us about Dickens’s views on visual aesthetics. When Whistler sued Ruskin for the latter’s hostile review of his Nocturne in Black and Gold, in November 1878, it ended up in the law courts with financial ruin, near mental breakdown and a resignation from an Oxford professorship. Dickens and Millais went the other way, moving on from this unpromising start to develop a real professional relationship, and, to some extent, personal friendship, sealed in death.

Date created: 
Monday, March 23, 2020
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Millais, Dickens and the ‘idea’ of a picture by Paul Shaw, All rights reserved.
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