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Jul 14, 2021
Illegibly inscribed and located 'London' verso; also with original preparer's stencil verso, oil on canvas
54 1/2 x 40 1/2 in. (138.4 x 102.9cm)
Executed in 1876.
Acquired directly from the above
Private Collection, Arizona.
The present painting is one of several versions painted by Millais and his studio after the work now in the Tate Gallery, London referred to by Millais's son in his biography of his father. The painting depicts John Charles Montague, who had been a corporal and later sergeant in the 16th Lancers and served for more than twenty years in India. He distinguished himself on several occasions and wears his campaign, good conduct and long service medals. When he retired in 1847 he was appointed a Yeoman of the Guard. Montague died in May 1878.
This picture was painted in 1876, when Millais was then at the height of his fame. Its differences to his ground breaking Pre-Raphaelite work of the 1850s, are attested by his son:
"In the summer of 1876 was painted 'The Yeoman of the Guard', a picture which, like the 'The North-West Passage', could hardly have been expected from the same hand as that which created 'Lorenzo and Isabella' and 'The Eve of St. Agnes', so widely different is it from either of them in character and sentiment. In 'The Yeoman' we have a splendid type of the fine old British warrior of which the nation is so proud a subject entirely after Millais' own heart. He delighted to paint it, and always considered the picture amongst the four best that ever came from his brush.
It was in 1875 that the idea of this work originated. Millais, having received a commission from a dealer to execute a very large picture of the Yeomen of the Guard searching the vaults beneath the two Houses previous to the opening of Parliament, made a preliminary visit to the Tower of London to see the "Beef Eaters" and study their costume. He was much struck with the splendid colour and tasteful design of the uniform, and thinking that under
artificial light its pictorial strength would be lost, he abandoned his original idea, and decided to paint a single figure in all the glory of the open air.
The difficulty was to find a model who came up to his ideal wearer of this historic costume; but this at last he found in Major Robert Montagu, a grand old man who most kindly came and sat for the head and hands. The Major had done yeoman service for his country in many campaigns, and his fine dignified head and figure were exactly what the artist required. Now, to sit to an artist for two hours involves a greater strain that is ommonly supposed. It is not surprising there fore that this old gentleman, who was over eighty and very infirm, found the work almost too much for him ; yet having once commenced he would not give in. He was supplied with soup etc. every three-quarters of an hour; and to relieve the strain on his gallant sitter Millais worked at a higher pressure than he had ever done before. The head and hands were dashed in, and completely finished in a few days; and yet, like so much of his best work, it suffered nothing from the rapidity with which it was executed.
My uncle, Henry Hodgkinson, who was one of my father's most devoted admirers, and already owned 'Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru' and 'The Woodman's Daughter' (both fine examples of the painter's earlier manner), had long wished for a specimen of his more recent works, but his limited means restrained him from indulging the desire. Now, however, when he saw 'The Yeoman' for the first time, he could no longer resist the temptation. The picture must be his at any cost; and he bought it. A proud man was he that day and ever afterwards of this possession…. When, later on, the artist expressed a desire that it should be left to the nation, he unselfishly jumped at the suggestion and carried it out by his will." (The Hodgkinson version of the painting was given to the Tate by Mrs Hodgkinson in 1897).
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