The Somnambulist by Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais, PRA will be a highlight of the 19th Century Paintings auction on 13th July 2011 at Bonhams New Bond Street. It is estimated to sell for £70,000-100,000. “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins was published in 1860 and proved immensely popular – it is thought that it may have provided Millais with inspiration for this painting. At the time, the Victorians were fascinated by sleepwalking and preoccupied with all things occult and dreamlike. They were interested in clairvoyance, seances and poltergeists and this ghostly picture of a fragile and vulnerable looking girl would have appealed greatly to contemporary taste. On it’s completion in 1871 the work was reviewed in The Illustrated London News which describes, “the fair figure of the somnambulist, and the accompanying night effect, with the mysterious, half-iridescent glimmer of an unseen moon on the sleepwalker’s nightdress… Her peril as she walks with wide-open yet unseeing eyes along the verge of the sea-cliffs is intimated without the least approach to obtrusive sensationalism”.
Born in Southampton, Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. His later works, such as The Somnambulist show a greater freedom of expression and reveal the influence of the American artist Whistler. He was President of the Royal Academy from February 1896 until his death in August 1896.
Charles O’Brien, Head of 19th Century Pictures at Bonhams comments, “This ethereal-looking work of a vulnerable girl in her delicate Victorian nightgown beautifully shows the development of Millais’ later, looser style of painting. We are delighted to be offering such an unusual and entrancing work by arguably the most important Victorian artist of his generation.”