Effie Gray

Dafato Team | Oct 26, 2023

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Euphemia Chalmers Gray (Perth, May 7, 1828 - Perth, December 23, 1897) was a British noblewoman.

Generally remembered as Effie Gray, she was the wife of celebrated English art critic John Ruskin. The annulment of her marriage and subsequent nuptials to Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais placed her at the center of a scandal that provoked passionate confrontation in the London drawing rooms of the time. The affair, in the public imagination, was improperly regarded as a "love triangle" and was the inspiration for numerous plays, comedies and films.

The story, which remained controversial, was the subject of a long and heated debate. The character is credited with questioning the role of the female figure in the society of the time, undermining the prejudices that characterized the Anglo-Saxon culture of the Victorian period.

Family origins

Effie Gray was born in Perthshire, Bowerswell, in a regency-style mansion set in the hills overlooking the city of Perth. Her father was George Gray, an established and wealthy professional with multiple interests in financial activities: a shareholder in the steamboat company that connected Dundee to London, he also had holdings in banks, insurance companies, gas lighting companies, and railroads. His mother, Sophia Margaret Jameson, also came from a family of businessmen.

The age of youth

Euphemia ("Phemy," as she was affectionately called by her parents) spent her childhood surrounded by her little brothers and sisters. She enjoyed extreme freedom and was able to move freely in the vast countryside around her home, where together with her pony and brother George she took long walks throughout the day, all the way to the Tay River near Perth.

Her parents had planned a first-rate education for her. Thus, as soon as she was 12, she had to leave the landscapes of childhood and travel hundreds of miles away to Stratford-upon-Avon in the Midlands. From 1840 she attended the renowned Byerley sisters' school, which attracted girls from all over the country; the Duchess of Kent, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was also rumored to have considered her for Princess Victoria's education.

She tried her hand at various disciplines with profit. At Avonbank she was taught French, Italian, German, writing, music, drawing and mathematics. She also took lessons in dance, piano and harp. She was given an education appropriate to the standards of the time.

The interruption of studies

His studies, however, came to an abrupt halt because of a serious tragedy that befell the family. In the summer of 1841 her three little sisters died one after the other of scarlet fever. Fortunately for her, Effie had remained in the Midlands that summer, the guest of a friend of hers. In order to avoid contagion, her parents preferred to have her spend the rest of the summer vacation with her maternal aunt and uncle, who were staying in London. That fall, little Miss Gray was unable to return to school. By her parents' wish, she returned to Bowerswell. Her mother Sophia was pregnant again and, in addition to moral support, needed Effie's help to run the household and care for her surviving little brother Andrew. The other brother George was in Germany to further his studies and the German language.

Friendship with John Ruskin

Before returning to Scotland, she asked her parents if she could respond to the invitation of the Ruskins, old family friends, and be allowed to stay in London for another short period before returning home. The previous year she had already been to Herne Hill, the district south of the capital where the Ruskin family resided, and it was there that the first meeting between her and John, the Ruskins' 21-year-old son, took place.

John, at the time, was fresh from a bitter disappointment in love, caused by the young Adèle. The latter's father was Pedro Domecq, who together with John James, John's father, held the most important sherry import company for the whole of England. However, the young Ruskin, deeply frustrated by his amorous misadventures, did not remain insensitive to Effie's brilliant intelligence and radiant beauty.

For her part, the girl, unable to bear to see the young man so melancholy and sunk in depression, issued him a challenge. She proposed that he dedicate one of his writings to her, which John did, writing a fairy tale, entitled The King of the Golden River. The tale, besides representing the seed of a new love, was a great success after its publication. It was at this time that John began to call young Gray by the nickname Effie, a nickname that accompanied her thereafter for the rest of her life.

Family problems and the resumption of studies

In the three years that followed she was completely absorbed by family problems. She learned to manage the household while her mother faced two more pregnancies. Her father George restored their residence, enlarging and gentrifying it, giving it the elegant look of a Renaissance mansion.

Finally in 1844 Effie was able to resume her studies, perfecting her knowledge of modern languages and other disciplines that, however, she had not stopped cultivating. By now almost 17, she returned to Scotland. She was endowed with uncommon beauty and a charming personality. In the years that separated her from her marriage to Ruskin, she is said to have received twenty-seven marriage proposals.

The second visit to the Ruskins

In the spring of 1847 he went to London, still a guest of the Ruskin family, to their lavish new residence at Denmark Hill. At the time Effie was engaged to William Kelty MacLeod, a young officer in the 74th Highland Regiment, while John's parents had arranged for their son's engagement to a wealthy heiress: Charlotte Lockhart, granddaughter of Sir Walter Scott. Both therefore regarded this new meeting, as adults, as a reunion of old friends. Margaret Ruskin, on the other hand, was concerned and feared that the charms of the young girl from Perth might, in some way, divert the attentions that her young son should instead devote to his fiancée Charlotte, a party to which the Ruskins cared deeply.

Effie, for her part, saw that stay in London as a renewed opportunity to meet up with her old Avonbank friends and their siblings, attend balls, receptions, exhibitions and other social events.

The paths of the two young men, however, ended up intersecting outside Denmark Hill as well. John, with his publication Modern Painters, had already become a minor celebrity, defined as visionary and prophetic in the art world. Soon Effie realized that all the suitors she had hitherto encountered had rather coarse backgrounds, compared to young Ruskin's refined artistic erudition.

John also cherished Effie's cultural growth and continually stimulated her with books, paintings, and promises of foreign travel. Evenings at Denmark Hill, where artists such as William Turner, George Dunlop Leslie, and George Richmond were received, invitations to the Royal Academy and to the home of British Prime Minister Robert Peel, ended up dazzling the young Bowerswell girl, who began to feel attracted to the beautiful world, in which John Ruskin moved. John, however, seemed to regard Effie as no more than a sweet sister.

The engagement with John Ruskin

In early summer Effie returned to Perthshire, where she learned that her fiancé William was to be posted to Ireland and thus the prospects of marriage were at least a couple of years away. At the same time Charlotte broke off her relationship with Ruskin, who, to the amazement of his parents, did not fall into the deep depression caused in the past by the loss of Adèle. Rather, he decided to take a walking tour of the hills of Scotland, much praised by his friend.

Initially, almost cravenly, he did not visit the Grays, fearful of her new love involvement, but then he accepted Sophia Gray's invitation and dated the young woman again for a short time. At first he did not want to make a proposal of engagement, partly because of the girl's own standoffish attitude, but, back in London, he broke off his hesitation and wrote to Mrs. Gray asking for Effie's hand, which she accepted.

The hesitations of the two young men can be explained by both of them being aware of the problems they would encounter in their union.

John knew that his life as a scholar and artist was peculiar and was aware that his existence was absorbed in his studies and his creative world. The claustrophobic environment, in which his parents' attention forced him, entailed the need for his future young companion to have a very solid and unconditional affection for him that would enable her to endure such isolation. Moreover, Effie's appearance and beauty worried Ruskin in no small measure, who might have preferred to have a less conspicuous wife beside him. Of these fears he informed his fiancée in his letters.

Effie, after returning to Scotland, had seen the possibility of an upcoming marriage to young officer William recede. She was aware of her fiancé's possessive nature, which had gone so far as to write to her without qualms that "she would have to be squeezed and squeezed" until she became the model wife he expected. Her future husband's prospects for success and the reception she would receive from the fine art and cultural world of London, however, convinced her. Effie believed that together with John they would make a good team and that she could be of valuable support to her awkward husband, helping him handle a wide variety of situations with tact and diplomacy.

In Bowerswell also, the mother was bedridden, affected by yet another pregnancy. She should have continued to run the household and take care of the children and their colds.

In addition, in no small part, his father's unstoppable financial rise had suffered a severe setback. In his time he had invested a large part of his financial holdings in the Amiens-Boulogne railroad in France. The revolutionary turmoil in that country and the economic crisis accompanied, in 1848, by the flight of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, turned his investments into waste paper, thus scaling back, his ambitions.

Believing that it was possible to smooth out all possible complications after the wedding had taken place, Gray was ultimately convinced that marriage to John Ruskin was an opportunity unlikely to be repeated, so she put aside all hesitation.

Early years of marriage to John Ruskin

The wedding was celebrated on April 10, 1848, in Bowerswell, at the Gray residence, which at one time had been owned by the Ruskins. The latter sold it to the Grays in the 1920s, when John James left Scotland for good, to set up his business in London. Tragic and bloody events had occurred in the house, including the suicide of the young groom's grandfather in October 1817. This seems to have been the reason why the Ruskins did not want to attend the ceremony.

The date was brought forward ahead of schedule to prevent the insurrectionary uprisings that were pervading Europe from jeopardizing the honeymoon. Ruskin wanted to tour the Swiss Alps in order to introduce Effie, too, to the luminous landscapes immortalized by J. W. Turner, his favorite painter.

The marriage did not begin in the best way. For unexplained reasons on the wedding night Ruskin did not want to have intercourse with his wife. It has been speculated that the frantic decision of the wedding date did not take Effie's menstrual cycle into account. However, even after that occasion the marriage was never consummated.

In the early period, however, despite this serious anomaly the union seemed to work. Constant visits to exhibitions and receptions in London made their relationship smooth and pleasant. Only the heavy presence of the in-laws hindered the possible positive development of the marriage.

By the end of the summer of the first year Effie's health suffered. She began to suffer from insomnia, discomfort of various kinds and hair loss, which the doctors, unaware of the actual situation, attributed to nervous disorders. In this situation she sought succor from her mother who, having arrived in London, after a short time took her with her to Scotland. She remained at home with her parents until the summer of 1849.

The relationship now seemed compromised. Instead although far apart, at Effie's suggestion the two arranged a trip to Venice. Ruskin would be able to pursue his studies on Gothic architecture and Effie would be able to distract herself in the lagoon town, in the company of her friend Charlotte who was called to accompany her.

They stayed in the luxurious and exclusive Danieli Hotel. The stay lasted six months until March 1850, and things went in the best of ways for both of them. Although it became apparent that they were deeply different, the stay seemed to strengthen their union.

John, as usual, isolated himself completely, absorbed in his studies. He described the Ca' d'oro and the Doge's Palace in detail, as he feared they might be destroyed by the occupying Austrian troops. The result was the writing of the work The Stones of Venice, the first volume of which was later published in 1851. Effie together with her inseparable friend Charlotte went to concerts, theaters and balls. Events in which, only rarely, her husband was a participant. Each devoted himself to his own occupations and in this way they were happy: so, at least, she wrote in her letters to family members.

Not without concern on the part of his mother and perplexity on the part of some of his friends, such as the trusted John Rawdon Brown, there emerged from the large number of suitors the romantic figure of a charming Austrian officer, Oberleutnant (lieutenant) Karl Paulizza. A platonic infatuation arose between the two, under the eyes of Ruskin himself, who showed no displeasure.

The spring of 1850 concurred with a return to London. His father-in-law, even before his departure for Venice, had already agreed to take an elegant apartment in the heart of the city on Park Street. The initiative turned out to be successful: the Ruskin couple, particularly Effie, began a rapid social ascent that yielded a presentation at court, in the presence of Queen Victoria.

The Park Street drawing room opened up to the best figures in the culture and aristocracy of the time. At the same time, they were able to come into contact, through the many invitations, with prominent figures: the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Charles Eastlake; writers, such as Thackeray and Dickens; personalities of the aristocracy, such as Lady Constance Gertrude Sutherland, wife of the 1st Duke of Westminster, Lord Wellington, Lady Charlemont; and finally political figures, such as the future prime minister William Gladstone. In between dinners, receptions, and evenings at the theater, Effie found time almost every day to be admired at her Amazon estate on Rotten Row. In this whirlwind, her husband and in-laws, though with mixed feelings, were well pleased with Effie's success, which could only benefit Ruskin's career. However, the latter's reclusive nature led him to retreat more and more often to his parents' home, where he could immerse himself undisturbed in his studies. Thus Ruskin ended up becoming one of his wife's many guests in the Park Street house. For Effie, on the other hand, this was the brightest period of her married life. She could breathe in the air of renewal that pervaded the 19th century, culminating in the World's Fair in May 1851. On that occasion the secretary of state Lord Glenelg and the famous archaeologist Charles Newton accompanied her to the opening of the Crystal Palace. At the same time her portraits, created by distinguished painters, appeared at the Royal Academy. Her social success reached its peak at that time.

However, Gray's soul was restless, tormented by insomnia and migraines. Her husband was completely absent from her life, increasingly drawn to his studies and his parents. All attempts at rapprochement proved futile. Ruskin disliked children and, amidst a thousand excuses, put off perfecting their union. Effie, though surrounded by luxury and enviable friendships, lived in complete solitude.

Even a second trip to Italy in the fall of 1851 did not improve their relationship. Indeed, an unpleasant incident that occurred at their residence in Venice cast a shadow over young Gray's reputation, which continued to be beyond reproach. During their stay, in fact, jewelry was stolen from Gray, probably by an Austrian officer who was on friendly terms with the couple. In the ensuing investigation, a group of officers antagonized Ruskin to the point of challenging him to a duel. His friend Rawdon Brown advised the couple to leave Venice, lest they be involved in an unpleasant scandal. But the episode was picked up by several English newspapers, and gossip about Gray's conduct ran rampant. Ruskin meanwhile reassured his parents, who were upset by the episode, and siding with his wife had a clarifying article published by The Times, in which the details of the unpleasant affair were explained. He had toward his wife an ambiguous attitude. In his correspondence with her father he admitted that he did not have those regards, which a normal husband should have for a wife. At the same time he reassured his parents of Effie's sober and prudent behavior, in whom he placed the utmost trust.

The young couple also depended financially, in every way, on old Mr. Ruskin. The latter, during their absence and unbeknownst to his daughter-in-law, liquidated the Park Street house to take another apartment, close to his residence but hopelessly far from the center and London good society.

According to the Ruskins such a solution would have allowed the couple to be more united, avoiding onerous travel for the son to visit his wife. Despite the promises, however, the latter found herself even more lonely, as her husband resumed his old habits, spending his days in his study at his parents' home.

Deprived of her carriage and confined to the suburbs, Effie prepared to face the darkest period of her marriage. As she wrote to her mother, her only consolation in her melancholy new Herne Hill apartment would be the flowers grown on the small veranda.

Contrasts with the in-laws, moreover, rose in tone. The elder Ruskin complained to his in-laws about his daughter-in-law's excessive prodigality, all about clothes and amenities. With his mother-in-law, too, the relationship was strained, since the latter was instrumental in choosing to isolate her daughter-in-law, vigorously ruling out the possibility of living together under the same roof in the albeit large and cozy residence at Denmark Hill. Unfortunate fact was that no one suspected the incredible situation that existed between the couple. Only in the spring of 1853 did a chink open in the sad context in which the young Gray moved: her husband proposed that she model a painting. The work he referred to was to be done by one of his young protégés, a leading exponent of the Pre-Raphaelite painting movement-John Everett Millais.

Meeting Everett Millais (1853)

Ruskin, though young, was by then an esteemed and established art critic and had a deep admiration for the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was already being hailed as the one who oriented opinions in Victorian society and, thus, had imposed this pictorial current, which was initially coolly received in academic circles. Millais was working on his work The order of release, which was to depict a Scottish woman about to welcome back her husband, imprisoned after the failure of the Jacobite insurrection of 1745. It is not known how and to whom the idea of taking Effie Gray as a model came about, but Millais needed, in keeping with Pre-Raphaelite principles, the vigor and resolve of a Scottish woman.

Ruskin prepared, for his protégé, a makeshift studio in the Herne Hill apartment, where the painter would paint Effie's face, capturing its expressive force. In the spring of 1853, the two spent long, intense days working on the painting, while her husband was hardly ever present, absorbed in his work in the Denmark Hill studio. While adhering to the canons of irreproachable propriety, a mutual attraction crept between them.

The painting, presented at the Royal Academy, was a huge success. Effie, in spite of herself, returned to the center of the news: her only fault was that she had lent, moreover solicited by her husband, the expression of her face as Millais had captured it. The rest of the work had been done in the artist's studio, using other models, but the bare feet of the painting's heroine were the subject of malicious interpretations by detractors of the young Gray. These gossips were also joined by those of her father-in-law. It was at this time that Effie began to suspect that somehow the whole family wanted to create the conditions to discredit her, as her husband also assumed an indecipherable attitude.

Even in this critical situation Ruskin, who had long planned to have Millais paint a portrait for him, chose as the location in which to seek a natural backdrop, the Trossachs, a mountain range in the Highlands in Scotland. In this way he would also be close to Edinburgh, where he planned to give a series of lectures preparatory to the release of the second volume of the Stones of Venice.

In the early summer of 1853 the three of them stayed in a small, isolated cottage they rented in Brig o' Turk. That was the ideal place for portraiture. In his spare moments Millais would be able to devote himself to fishing, Ruskin would wait on the finishing touches to his book, and Effie would be able to enjoy the nature of her, ever beloved, Scotland.

Bad weather conditions changed the pre-established plans, and the time needed to produce the portrait unexpectedly lengthened. Heavy rains forced the three of them to live closely together in the cramped cottage. The space was reduced to a large room and two closets where Effie and Millais slept, respectively. Ruskin had adapted to sleeping on a sofa and was so busy writing the complex analytical index of his work that he was not affected by the negative influences of bad weather. The situation was different for the others. Millais to fool the time ended up making a myriad of drawings and sketches of Effie's face. He taught her how to draw and together they became closer and closer. When time permitted and the artist was not busy with portraiture, the two young people would take long walks, to Ruskin's apparent indifference. Thus they ended up falling in love. It was probably then or during the time of Ruskin's lectures in Edinburgh that the young bride decided to reveal to Millais the secret in which her marriage was confined.

Mrs. Gray, who was also present at Ruskin's lectures, did not miss the understanding born between the two. Disturbed, she soon afterwards resolutely urged Effie to cease all correspondence with Millais and enjoined the young man to avoid any contact with her daughter.

Millais, when he learned from Mrs. Gray that Effie had discovered a notebook in which Ruskin jotted down all of his wife's behavior, realized that Ruskin's unusually quiet indifference could be used to undermine both of their reputations.

He had recently become a member of the Royal Academy. One word from the acclaimed critic John Ruskin could ruin him. However, concerned, he advised Mrs. Gray to send his young sister Sophie to comfort Effie, as he believed she was in grave danger, a victim of Ruskin and his family.

The Escape (1854)

Sophie's arrival at Herne Hill was decisive for young Effie Gray, who had fallen into deep depression. Her now chronic insomnia, migraines, and precarious health, to which was added a deplorable nervous tic in her eye, caused her to live in deep isolation.

He heard from Millais through correspondence with his mother, who in turn crossed a parallel correspondence relationship with the young artist. In addition, Millais continued to maintain regular relations with Ruskin, as he was still busy drafting his painting.

He was also granted to paint a portrait of little sister Gray, who daily visited the artist's studio. Little Sophie also found herself the focus of Mrs. Ruskin's attention, who did not mind having the pretty little girl for a home.

Thus Sophie found herself to be the collector of all thoughts and talk revolving around Effie. While the latter was pleased to receive news of Millais, at the same time she learned in disbelief of the slander, which Mrs. Ruskin was making about Mrs. Gray and her family. At the same time, John Ruskin also confided in little Sophie, making her aware of her older sister's alleged faults. He also made her share his suspicions about her sister's alleged affair with Millais and his intentions to adopt a much harsher attitude toward his ungrateful wife.

Effie, moreover, clearly perceived that the Ruskins, failing to bring her down, were pursuing an even more ambiguous lead. Coalesced among themselves, they wanted to substantiate the claim of her alleged mental instability.

It was at this point that Effie, decided to play it by ear, taking advantage of her remaining friendships.

Mrs. Eastlake, wife of the president of the Royal Academy, had, from the beginning of her stay in London, taken a liking to Ruskin's young consort, being admired by the irresistible social rise that had accompanied her. On a visit to Herne Hill, he learned from Effie the difficult situation in which she was struggling. She sensed from Effie's words the seedier side of the affair, and eventually learned from her young friend how the marriage had never been consummated.

Having grown up in a family of doctors-both her father and brother were obstetric surgeons-she quickly understood what path to take, but warned Gray of the enormous difficulties that would lie ahead.

Effie resolutely decided to take the initiative. In a letter to her parents, she revealed to them the secret and anguish that had held her captive for six years.

The elopement was arranged, and in a few weeks all the preparations that were to serve the subsequent cause of separation were made. Under the guise of accompanying little Sophie, Effie took the train to Bowerswell and on April 25, 1854, left the Ruskins for good. She deposited her wedding ring in an envelope. At the next station her father, who was waiting for her, took delivery of the ring to be delivered to the Ruskins and some letters in which Effie informed her close and influential friends of what had happened.


The separation, taking into account the visibility of the characters, caused a great stir in the drawing rooms of the time. Public opinion was divided now in favor of one, now in favor of the other spouse. However, the court proceedings were held behind closed doors, and all the related details were not made known until later. Effie Gray had to undergo unpleasant medical examinations, which were supposed to prove her virginity.

All the inferences and conjectures that followed originated from correspondence with lawyers, friends and relatives, from which it is clear that both litigants had complex and edgy characters. Effie herself was not considered blameless in her attitude toward her husband and in-laws.

John Ruskin must be credited, despite young Gray's fears, with extreme fairness. His lawyers had recommended an infamous line of defense against his wife, claiming that hers was an impure virginity. A line to which he objected, it being his desire that the practice proceed with as little "hindrance as possible."

For his part, he had prepared a document which, however, he did not want to present to the ecclesiastical court. From the same it appeared that a covenant had been made, immediately after the marriage, stipulating that the same would not be consummated until his wife was twenty-five years old. This was so as not to jeopardize her delicate health during the honeymoon and not to hinder, in later times, the many trips they planned to take. It was Gray, according to the document, who refused any contact even after she turned twenty-five. These arguments were, however, contradictory to statements made to his lawyer that spoke of religious reasons as well as a state of anxiety on the part of his wife, caused by the difficult economic conditions in which her family found itself. Ruskin especially reported:

The reason for Ruskin's distaste with regard to "certain details of his person" is unknown. Various hypotheses have been made, including repulsion for pubic hair Robert Brownell, however, in his analysis of the discomforts of marriage, argues that Ruskin's difficulties in this marriage were attributable to economic aspects, related to the fear that Effie Gray and her less affluent family would somehow try to tap into Ruskin's considerable financial assets.

Effie Gray and her family instead pursued a line aimed at stigmatizing her husband's abnormal behaviors.Her brother George, who kept up a regular correspondence with his sister, claimed that his brother-in-law deliberately encouraged friendships that could compromise the latter's reputation, looking for excuses and reasons to be able to part with her.

For her part, young Gray claimed that it was her husband who constantly postponed the consummation of the marriage. The reasons for this behavior are unclear, but they seem to be traceable to some repugnance Ruskin had for his wife's body features. Later she wrote to her father:

The ecclesiastical court, just over two and a half months after the separation, ruled against him on July 15, 1854, and the marriage was declared null and void, on the grounds that "John Ruskin was incapable of consummating the said marriage due to incurable impotence."

All these events marked the couple deeply. Although both relieved at the closure of the sad experience, they carried with them the unpleasant aftermath of the affair. Backbiting and gossip misrepresented the reality in many cases. Gray had the unpleasant feeling that she was regarded more as a divorcee, a disreputable condition at the time, than as actually a victim of an unconsummated marriage, considered null and void by the Anglican Church itself. Moreover, her health suffered for a long time and it took time for her recovery. Ruskin had to suffer the shame of established impotence, which conditioned his future. He would have liked to remarry a young woman with whom he had fallen in love when she was still a child-Rose La Touche. When the girl came of marriageable age, however, her parents, seeing the unfortunate history, wanted to inquire with Gray, who was hardly benevolent toward her former husband. In fact, the engagement was dissolved and Ruskin resigned himself to a bachelor life.

The two never met again, except once, in 1861, when Effie Gray, after six years, wanted to take public revenge. By that time they had both rebuilt their lives-John Ruskin had regained his footing and his lectures were social events at which the best names in society came together. At one of these, held at the Royal Institution, his ex-wife showed up after the event had begun and crossing the entire audience went to occupy her seat in the front row. Her presence, together with her persistent stare, sent the accredited critic into confusion, who was forced to interrupt the lecture and leave the stage. This episode was harshly criticized and the clash of opinions further radicalized. Her life, however, had taken a different path, and she was about to share in the social and artistic successes of her new husband.

Life with John Everett Millais

Effie Gray and John Everett Millais were married in Bowerswell in 1855, and the artist moved to Scotland. They settled at Annat Lodge, in a residence adjacent to his parents' estate.

After an initial period of complete carefreeness came Effie's first pregnancy and the duties of a family man led Everett to resume his work, beginning a new cycle of paintings. Away from London he set his hand to a number of works such as The Blind Girl, L'enfant du regiment, Autumn Leaves and especially Peace is Concluded. The artist gradually began to overcome the punctilious insecurity of early Pre-Raphaelism while retaining its essential elements. At the same time, his wife proved to be an excellent collaborator who, by listening to his ideas and expectations, was able to procure him objects and subjects for the paintings, obtaining them, moreover, at ridiculously low prices as the perfect and thrifty stewardess she proved to be later on.

Peace is concluded is a painting showing a wounded British officer reading in the Times about the end of the Crimean War. His wife (Effie Gray) appears as an icon of beauty and fertility at the center of the family context. At the Royal Academy, the painting was the subject of mixed opinions, but it had the unqualified support of John Ruskin, who considered it "among the best masterpieces in the world," greatly enhancing its value. It was sold even before the exhibition began for the remarkable price of 900 guineas. The Blind Girl was also immediately sold, so the financial problems were immediately dispelled. The press and the public, however, raged against Millais, and the feeling was that they wanted to hit him for the events related to the so-called scandal of his marriage. They also accused him of having renounced the Pre-Raphaelite principles for purely economic reasons.

In the years that followed the family increased, and by 1860 the couple had four children-Everett junior (1856), George (1857), Effie (1858), and Mary (1859). While Effie was inevitably absorbed in her role as mother, Everett diversified his business by devoting himself to etchings and watercolors, from which he was able to earn an income of 500 pounds a year. He had to absent himself for long periods, however, and remain in London, the residence of his patrons and friends at the Royal Academy, without whose esteem and help he risked being cut off from the cultural currents of the capital.

Effie for her part, in her life entirely devoted to her family, encouraged by her husband had also begun to paint, but a serious eye disorder that impaired her ability to see forced her to give up. Although to an intermittent extent, this problem continued to plague her throughout her life.

But beyond these problems Effie began to worry about her husband's career. The painting Sir Isumbras at the ford, a work in which Millais attempted to move beyond the rigid Pre-Raphaelite schemes, was violently attacked by critics. In the forefront John Ruskin judged it a catastrophe.

Gray understood that it was imperative to return to London and resume her role in social life, even though such an eventuality would entail an inevitable sacrifice, having to give up the care and assistance she had hitherto received from her family.

The period spent at Annat Lodge in Perthshire operated a slow evolution in Millais's artistic personality, which eventually abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with detail and began to paint in a looser style. The figure of Effie, his young sisters Sophie and Alice, who had been used as the subjects of his paintings, Autumn Leaves and Apple Blossoms, accompanied by the birth of their children, were all catalysts for his transformation, which, in a more mature outlook on life, led him to gain an awareness of the transience of things.

In later times his detractors attributed this change to the deemed deplorable influence of his wife who encouraged him to churn out popular works, for the sole purpose of profit aimed at acquiring an increasingly ambitious social position. However, there is no evidence that she consciously pushed him in this direction, although her fine managerial strategies undoubtedly influenced his career. Indeed, she often collaborated with him, in administration, in choosing stage clothes and models. In social relations she promoted her husband's business to her wealthier friends, in order to make them protagonists of equally remunerative portraits.

Cornhill Magazine, however, emphasized the high regard she had for her husband's art, and, on the other hand, the Pre-Raphaelite style continued to be clearly visible in her works, even several years after their marriage.

Instead, it was during his stay in London that the artist became aware of the new phase of his creativity. It was still Effie who was the interpreter of the most significant work of this change: The Eve of St. Agnes. The painting, inspired by the poetry of John Keats, was made in a large bedroom lit by the uncertain rays of the moon in a large Jacobite residence, Knole House, in Sevenoaks, Kent. Millais, on the whole, was pleased with the result, but on his return to London he preferred to replace Effie's facial features with those of another model. The work, which was received by critics in a dim tone, instead found an immediate buyer in the very wealthy Liverpool shipowner Frederick Richards Leyland, who was captivated by the painting's poetry and ethereal atmosphere. Unknowingly Effie, posing on those cold moonlit nights, represented the point of no return in the difficult transition from Pre-Raphaelism to Millais's aestheticism.

The painting is now part of the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

From then on Effie Gray was no longer used as a model by her husband. Family traits, however, continued to recur in the many works devoted to childhood with the frequent use of children and grandchildren.

In 1861 Mr. and Mrs. Millais with their firstborn children settled in London at 7 Cromwell Road. Four more children were born, Alice (Carrie) in 1862, Geoffroy in 1863, John Guille in 1865, who became his father's biographer, and finally Sophie in 1868.

Effie also resumed traveling in Europe going to the places of her youthful dreams, initially with her husband and then with her older children.

The decision to return to London proved successful for both spouses, who resumed their social relations with vigor. Millais could devote himself to his work in the large professional studio he had set up in his new residence, keeping his contacts with the Royal Academy alive at all times, while Effie could take care, through invitations and receptions, of her husband's public figure, as there were still numerous influential people on whom she could rely. His house not only represented the residence of one of the most esteemed painters of the time, but was considered a crossroads of cultural events and became a sought-after destination for personalities and famous people, friends, artists and musicians.

The friendship of violinist John Ella enabled her to keep abreast of the music of contemporary artists. Guests could sometimes find themselves gathered around the piano during a performance by the charismatic Anton Grigorevič Rubinštejn, who was their guest several times.

Her reputation, however, remained scarred by the affair of her separation, which prevented her from being received at court. The society of the time pointed to Gray as the wife of two men. This circumstance had been foreseen by Lady Eastlake, who at the time of the separation had intervened with Lady Charlemont, Effie's godmother at the 1850 presentation at Court, for her to explain to Queen Victoria the details of the affair, which had been distorted by gossip and rumors. Lady Charlemont, however, did not have the courage to entertain the queen about such scabrous details as Ruskin's manhood and the non-consummation of the marriage. The situation was never addressed and Effie Gray had the unpleasant feeling that the queen's decision was vitiated by a deplorable misunderstanding.

In 1874 the Millais, knowing that success calls success, decided to purchase, for the considerable sum of £8,400, a plot of land in Kensington to build their new home, Palace Gate: a grand mansion, in which they would be able to include large reception rooms and an imposing study.

Effie Gray's life continued in the prestigious residence at No. 2 Palace Gate, which represented the fruit of all her life's endeavors. The grand studio, the spacious rooms, the whole house had been built to be a mirror in which to reflect Everett Millais' impressive artistic output.

The opening party was grand, and as hostess she demonstrated all the facets of her talents. The reception, in London society, remained as one of the events to remember. Illustrious names such as Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, conductor Charles Hallé, the queen's own daughter Princess Louise, and such prestigious figures as writer Anthony Trollope or Lord Edward Wharncliffe passed under her roof.

At the same time their invitations were reciprocated at such prestigious residences as the grand Cliveden residence of the Duke of Westminster and his wife Lady Constance Sutherland. They could count on Prime Minister Gladstone's invitations to both Downing Street and Hawarden Castle.

In the spring of 1883 the soiree for the opening of the season at the Royal Academy was held at No. 2 Palace Gate.

Mrs. Millais willingly endured the exclusion from court ceremonial, as her social relations had been going smoothly until then, and the Princes of Wales themselves, Edward and Alexandra, had no qualms about being seen in public in her company.

However, because of the history of his previous marital experience he could not always count on the certainty of his status. It was on the occasion of an invitation to a reception at the residence of the Duchess of Sutherland that these limitations manifested themselves in all their rawness. The presence of Queen Victoria at the event made it necessary for the lord chamberlain to carefully screen the guest list. List from which Effie Gray was excluded, who, to the Duchess's grave embarrassment, was immediately informed.

Subsequent initiatives, taken by the duchess herself and Prince Edward himself, failed to make the queen recede from her decision. Mrs. Millais, according to the strict canons of Victorian Puritanism, continued to be considered an adulteress, and separation, even if caused by an unconsummated marriage, continued to be considered a deplorable act.

Only her husband's continued successes could alleviate Gray's frustrations. Along with economic success came artistic recognition for John Everett Millais. The old controversy associated with his abandonment of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had slowly faded. In 1885 he was made a baronet for his merits as a painter and for his great efforts within the Royal Academy.

For her part, Effie Gray, by the early 1890s had aged prematurely. Frustrated by various bereavements and misfortunes in her family, she, herself, had almost completely lost her eyesight. In addition to no longer being able to help her husband with household administration and work, she was also no longer able to admire his paintings.

Millais, also tired and aging, was afflicted with an incurable throat disease. Nevertheless until the end he continued to work, and in 1896 he had the great honor of being appointed president of the Royal Academy.

As a public figure, his condition was the subject of attention from the royal household itself. Through Princess Louise, who constantly inquired about his condition, Queen Victoria represented her willingness to be of assistance in those difficult times. Millais' only wish, by now on the verge of death, was his wife's rehabilitation.

Thus, on July 2, 1896, Effie Gray, in an official ceremony, was finally received at court. She was 67 years old at the time. Unsteady on her legs and almost completely blind she succeeded in pursuing the goal she had desired for over forty years. It happened not precisely on the terms she had hoped for, but nevertheless it was a victory over the prejudices of an entire era. Most of the protagonists in the heated confrontation had now aged or died, and the affair ended up affecting only the circle of family members.

After a few days her husband died. Each of the children had gone their own way, and the residence at No. 2 Palace Gate, was put up for sale.

Effie Gray left London for good to retire to Scotland, to her old home in Bowerswell. Assisted by her daughter Mary, also like her husband, she died prematurely on December 23, 1897. She was buried in nearby Kinnoull Cemetery.

The reconstruction of Effie Gray's life was made possible by the copious correspondence between the various characters in the story. The main architects of the preservation and cataloguing of the very numerous letters were her children Mary and John Guille. In 1947 their grandson, Sir James William Milbourne, published much of this documentation by titling itː The order of release, inspired by the painting of the same name created by his grandfather. Later British biographer Mary Lutyens collected and sorted, again, all the documentation, producing three different publicationsː Effie in Venice (1965), Millais and the Ruskins (1967) and The Ruskins and the Grays (1972).

Other extensive correspondence referring specifically to her time in Bowerswell was collected by another grandson of Effie Gray, Geoffroy Everett Millais and is preserved in the Tate Gallery Archive and the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

It was not until 2010 that Suzanne Fagence Cooper, with patient and laborious research and synthesis, was able to reconstruct the first complete biography of Effie Gray's life, publishing the book The Model Wife: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais.

Suzanne Fagence Cooper's work in 2012 was translated as Effie. History of a Scandal, and is the only bibliographic source on the character compiled in Italian.

Her marriage to Ruskin and subsequent love affair with Millais have been depicted on several occasions.


  1. Effie Gray
  2. Effie Gray
  3. ^ Gray disse del ritratto: «[...] è un bellissimo dipinto a olio, più bello di quanto sia io stessa. Sembro una graziosa bambola»
  4. ^ Nelle fonti anglofone quest'ultimo è spesso indicato come Charles.
  5. ^ Il suo intervento, nell'annullamento delle nozze di Effie Gray, fu determinante.
  6. ^ "Effie Gray (Lady Millais) – National Portrait Gallery". Npg.org.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  7. ^ a b Mervyn Williams (2012) Effie
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Randall, Linda (2012). Effie Gray: Fair Maid of Perth. Melrose Books. p. 291. ISBN 1908645091.
  10. Effie Ruskin. [2012. február 1-i dátummal az eredetiből archiválva]. (Hozzáférés: 2012. március 8.)
  11. szerk.: James, William Milbourne: 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, 1. o. (1948)
  12. a b c d e f g Effie Ruskin biography. [2012. február 1-i dátummal az eredetiből archiválva]. (Hozzáférés: 2012. március 8.)
  13. Lutyens, M., Millais and the Ruskins, p.191
  14. Phyllis Rose (1983) Parallel Lives; Franny Moyle (2009) Desperate Romantics
  15. Peter Fuller, Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace, Chatto & Windus, 1988, pp.11-12; Suzanne Fagence Cooper (2010) The Model Wife: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais
  16. Prodger, Michael (2013-03-29).

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