Forever blowing bubbles

21 May 2007 by Karen

oil painting of a young boy in brown velvet watching a bubble floating above his head

Bubbles by Sir John Everett Millais

Recently saw this Guardian article on Millais and a new Tate exhibition. Reading it I felt quite sorry for Millais and I’m a bit puzzled about his work needing rescuing. A lot of people like ‘Bubbles’, which is on long loan at the Lady Lever Art Gallery and will be returning there once the Tate exhibition is over. Ok, it might seem a bit sugary and sentimental to our modern eyes but that’s a lot of people’s cup of tea and fair play to them.

In case you don’t know Millais didn’t paint ‘Bubbles’ to advertise soap; instead he intended the bubbles and the innocence of the child to represent the fragility of life, and the painting as a whole is meant to encourage us to ponder the brevity of our existence. Some people think that Millais wasn’t best pleased when it was used to advertise Pear’s soap, but he’d sold the copyright so there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it. Others suggest that he was happy with the sale as long as the reproduction was of a suitable quality

‘Bubbles’ actually fits in quite well at the Lady Lever, partly because we’ve a good few Millais’s in the collection (you can explore them in this Millais online feature), but also because of the gallery’s history and links to the soap industry. Lord Leverhulme began buying art, not just Millais’s work, in the late 1880s to use in advertising for his ‘Sunlight Soap’ brand. Pieces like The Wedding Morning, Girl With Dogs, Besieged, His Turn Next, A Dress Rehearsal and The Centre of Attraction were purchased to promote soap, and many a home still has a print, postcard, jigsaw or tea tray depicting one of them.

So, if ‘Bubbles’ is your cup of tea you can read more about it here or listen to a gallery talk on our main site.

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