LITERATURE: The Examiner, 11 Jan 1879 Pall Mall Gazette, 30 January 1879
By the time the present lot was painted, Millais was highly regarded, not least for his portraiture, in which he was considered a 'perfect master of his craft' (Pall Mall Gazette 'The Royal Academy Exhibition, First Article' 10 May 1869). The title of the present work seems to have altered slightly during it's extensive exhibition history. Entitled 'A Morning dream at Dawn' on a label in the artist's hand, with the word 'morning' struck through, the work is variously listed as 'A Dream of the Dawn' and 'A Dream of Dawn'. Millais exhibited a work entitled A Dream of Dawn at the Royal Academy in 1869 (no. 597), which may be an oil version of the present lot, just as The Minuet, lot 93 in this sale, was a watercolour version of an larger oil shown at the Academy in 1867.
The Royal Academy submission entitled A Dream of Dawn does not recieve specific mention in contemporary reviews of the exhibition, being eclipsed by a number of the artist's other submissions for that year, not least his portrait of Nina, daughter of Frederick Lehmann Esq (no. 127), which The Era describes as 'a bit of loveliness...anything more graceful, more delicate and refined... cannot be concieved. ('Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, First Notice' 9 May 1869). The Pall Mall Gazette is equally effusive, commenting that 'Mr. Millais, as usual, leaves a more powerful impression on the memory than any other artists.' and reserves special praise for the portrait of Nina Lehmann, 'an instance of his amazing vigour in its happiest exercise'. (Pall Mall Gazette, 'The Royal Academy Exhibition, First Article', 10 May 1869).
The present lot was shown at The Grosvenor Gallery Winter exhibition in 1878-79, a vast exhibition of more than 1,100 works on paper, split between 787 drawings by 'deceased artists' with the remainder of the submissions coming from living artists. Contemporary reviews were mixed; the Pall Mall Gazette, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of works on display, asked 'who in this busy metropolis -artist, connoisseur, or critic- can find time for the minute examination of 787 drawings in one gallery?' ('The Grosvenor Gallery, First Notice' 4 January 1879). The Gazette was equally unsure as to the wisdom of displaying modern works alongside the Old Masters: 'the amateur element...is by no means absent...certainly not what the Grosvenor Gallery exhibitions were expected to be.' (ibid).
The Examiner however, was more complimentary of the exhibition, noting that 'the modern masters of watercolour have surpassed their predecessors and teachers...they endeavour, it seems, to interpret Nature in every mood possible to her' ('The Grosvenor Gallery, Second Notice' 11 January 1879').
Where both reviewers are in unison, however, is in singling out the present lot for special mention. The Examiner calling it 'a delightful little work by Mr. Millais' (ibid); the Pall Mall Gazette is equally complimentary:
'A few important works must, however, be touched upon. Mr. Millais's "A Dream at Dawn" (825) is of small size, but a gem of its kind. The artist has seldom created a more beautiful type than the lady in a white flowing dress, leaning over a balcony encircled by blossoms and all kinds of greenery. The expression of the head is full of intense passion, although there is a certain dreamy vagueness in the eyes waiting for the dawn.' ('The Grosvenor Gallery, Second Notice' 30 January 1879')