The Boyhood of Raleigh

June 17 2013

The Boyhood of Raleigh 1870 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

John Everett Millais, The Boyhood of Raleigh, Royal Academy, 1871, Tate Britain; click for better resolution

The young Walter Raleigh and his brother. I presume his full, older brother Carew. Influenced by an essay by James Anthony FroudeEngland’s Forgotten Worthies, in Short Studies on Great Subjects, First Series, 1867, and perhaps by a contemporaneous biography which imagined Raleigh’s boyhood.

Background painted at Budleigh Salterton, near Exeter, close to where Raleigh grew up. According to Millais’ biographer, Marion Spielmann, the sailor, a professional model, was intended to be Genoese. He perhaps points to the Spanish Main. Millais’ sons modelled for the boys. There is a model ship in the foreground.

If Millais had been a more imaginative painter, he would surely have included a still-life element to hint at or predict his subject’s execution. Is there something?

The phrase “Go west, young man” is about crossing land – the American continent – not the Atlantic and is attributed, with some uncertainty, to the founder and editor (1841-72) of the New-York Tribune, Horace Greeley.

Charles Kingsley’s novel Westward Ho!, 1855, was about Francis Drake. The title was derived from the call of boat taxis on the Thames (eastward ho!, westward ho!) and is also a nod towards the play Westward Hoe by John Webster and Thomas Dekker, written circa 1604, on the perils of the westward expansion of London.

The tobacco and cloak anecdotes are Raleigh, the game of bowls anecdote is Drake. Drake was another Devonian, born at Tavistock.

2 Responses to “The Boyhood of Raleigh”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Raleigh looks fairly unpleasant in the Millais. Millais was imaginative, of course. I should not disparage him too much.

    One could offer a quasi-orientalist critique of the decorative function of the Italian. “This man is picturesque, but the Genoese are history. The future is with us.”

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Something that might bother the Japanese: the changing brushstrokes around the sailor’s head. The sky seems to have been repainted around the head. Should the head not have been painted on top of the horizontal strokes of the sky?


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