Sir John Everett Millais (British, 1829-1896) The Minuet

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Lot 149
(n/a) Sir John Everett Millais
(British, 1829-1896)
The Minuet

£ 60,000 - 80,000
US$ 80,000 - 110,000
(n/a) Sir John Everett Millais (British, 1829-1896)
The Minuet
signed with monogram (lower right)
10 x 25.5cm (3 15/16 x 10 1/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Thomas Agnew and Son, Manchester, from the artist;
    unknown buyer, recorded as 'James', Dec 1st 1867;
    Thomas Agnew and Son, Manchester;
    Abraham Haworth (purchased 12th February 1873);
    John Goodier Haworth;
    thence by descent.

    Manchester, Royal Jubilee Exhibition, 1887, no. 1432;
    London, Loan exhibition of watercolour drawings, Guildhall 1896.

    Ex. cat, Royal Jubilee Exhibition (1887, Manchester), no. 1432;
    Walter Armstrong, Critical notes reprinted from the 'Manchester Guardian', Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Fine Art Section (Manchester, 1887), p. 54;

    The present lot and its provenance opens a window onto the nature of late 19th century art collecting and in particular the relationship between the three key individuals who played a role in the history of this painting; they were the dealer William Agnew (1825-1910), the artist Sir John Everett Millais, PRA (1829-1896) and the collector, Abraham Haworth (1830-1902).

    Abraham Haworth was typical of wealthy textile merchants, mainly cotton, but also silk, and other assoicated industrialists, who moved from Manchester to Bowdon from the 1840s onwards, when the three main landowners began selling land for building.

    Abraham and his brother Jesse resided in Hilston House and Woodside House, respectively, in Bowdon. The houses were extremely large and Hilston House still exists. Woodside was demolished in the 1960s and a smaller house now stands in its place. The sizes of the houses go some way to demonstrating just how wealthy the two brothers were. Jesse and Abraham's wealth came from trading in textiles and they both began their careers at Dilworth and Sons, yarn commission agents in Manchester. Abraham later became a partner and then head of the firm. Both men were closely involved in the Bowdon Downs Congregational Church and their involvement extended to serving as deacons. Abraham was also involved in education. He became a governor of the Manchester grammar school in July 1872 and by 1877 he was elected chairman of the Estates and Building Committee which was in charge of building the new building at the Manchester Grammar School.

    Abraham and Jesse were occupied mostly with work and with religious and educational responsibilities. However, they did on occassion purchase paintings and other works of art, including Wedgewood. Jesse was closely involved with funding Egyptian archaeological expeditions and collecting Egyptian artefacts. On Jesse's death he bequeathed a large collection of watercolours, including works by JMW Turner, to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. A fair amount of this bequest originally came from Abraham, who evidently left some of his pictures to Jesse on his death. Jesse had no children and so it was understandable that he left his pictures to the gallery. Abraham had four children, and whilst he left some pictures to Jesse, a number also went to his children. The present lot was passed down through Abraham's family via his son, John Goodier Haworth.

    The extent of the brother's collections is demonstrated by the selection of works they lent to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester in 1887. Abraham lent 21 pictures to the exhibition including a Turner of Warwick Castle (D.1937.22 in the Whitworth), two more Turner watercolours, two Holman Hunt watercolours (nos D.1961.4 and D.1961.5 in the Whitworth, given in memory of Abraham's son, John Goodier Haworth in 1961), and, among many other works by famous Victorian artists, The Minuet by Millais. Jesse's list of paintings lent to the exhibition was equally impressive including Samuel Palmer's Calypso's Island, The Black Brunswicker by Millais and two Holman Hunt watercolours of Cairo and Jerusalem. Agnews records show that the two brothers visited the gallery on the 12th February 1873 and both left with two Holman Hunt watercolours. It was also on this day that Abraham purchased The Minuet.

    The Chairman of the Fine Arts Section of the Royal Jubille Exhibition was Sir William Agnew, the art dealer. From 1826 Agnews was located at 14 Exchange Street, Manchester run by Thomas Agnew, William's father. In 1840 William Agnew joined his father in the business which was growing in size due to the wealthy industralists' taste for contemporary British art. As Geoffrey Agnew wrote, 'The large fortunes, accumulated in the mid-19th century by Manchester merchants, had given a tremendous impetus to art collecting. The death of Lord Egremont, in 1837, had marked the end of that aristocratic patronage, which had maintained and encouraged artists through the 18th century. But, in fact, the artists had no need to mourn Lord Egremont as passionately as they did. A new class had become interested in collecting pictures, a class of bankers, manufacturers, merchants and brewers. They were English, and thought everything English, from Worsted to watercolours was the best. They were businessmen, who preferred signed contemporary pictures to dubious old masters'.1 From the 1850s, Agnews records show that William was selling modern, British paintings to wealthy clients such as the Haworth, Newall, Gaskell and Holdsworth families.2 As well as his close relationship with the wealthy families of Manchester, Agnew was closely linked with the modern artists of the day. William Agnew entertained widely both at his house, Summer Hill, near Salford and in his Great Stanhope Street house in London. Millais was often present at these gatherings and it is clear that Agnew and the artist maintained a strong business relationship.

    We can imagine that when the Royal Jubilee Exhibition was in its planning stages, Agnew was able to call upon the artists and collectors with whom he worked so closely, and ask them to lend their works to the exhibition, especially as the majority of pictures would have been purchased from Agnew in the first place. Agnew's intimate knowledge of the collections belonging to the most influential businessmen and families of the era would have guaranteed an exhibition comprisising of the most impressive pictures of the day.

    Millais painted The Minuet (the oil version) in 1866 and it was purchased from Agnews in May 9th 1867 by Sir John Kelk (1816-1886), the self-made civil engineering contractor. Agnews had obtained the painting directly from Millais. Kelk died in 1886 and the work was sold by his family at Christies in 1899 and bought by Agnews. The work was then bought by William Proby, 5th Earl of Craysfort and has remained with his family. The Minuet was one of the first 'fancy' pictures painted by Millais where 'sentiment takes precedence over evolved narrative'.3 Such was the success of this new form of painting, that Millais was asked to paint smaller versions of The Minuet, one for William Agnew, and one for the dealer Ernest Gambart (1814-1902).4 There are two known replicas in existence. One, the present lot, is in watercolour. It is interesting to note that Abraham purchased the The Minuet some seven years after it was painted. From Agnews records under 'The drawings stock books 1865-70' the watercolour version of The Minuet was originally sold to a buyer named James on December 1st 1867. This version was also purchased directly from Millais by Agnews. Evidently, the work then came back to Agnews who sold it on to Haworth in 1873. The second replica is in the Kuinsthalle in Hamburg. It was in the collection of G. C. Schwabe-Stiftung in 1886. This particular painting is recorded as being sold to Schwabe on December 16th 1867 by Agnews and, as with the other versions, Agnews had obtained the picture directly from the artist. This version is oil on mahogany and is 46.3 x 35.5cm. This is larger than the present lot but still considerably smaller than the original oil at 110 x 85 cm. It is particularly interesting to note that all three known versions of The Minuet passed through Agnews at least once and all were acquired directly from Millais. It is not clear what happened to the version for Gambart and whether it was an entirely different version, or whether it was one of the two known replicas which passed through Agnews.

    The Minuet depicts Millais's first daughter, Effie, curtseying to the viewer as she prepares to dance a minuet, played on the piano behind her by her aunt, Alice Grey. As Alison Smith states 'With its solemn mood, abrupt cropping of the candelabra and figure on the left, and representation of two female relatives absorbed in music, the painting shares affinities with Whistler's At the piano . . . [the picture] self-consciously adopts the stylistic and historical conventions of the eighteenth century. Effie wears a red dress in the style of the mid-eighteenth century . . . the Rococco tapestry of a fete champetre on the wall enhances Millais's evocation of the era of sensibilite, as does the china tea-set elegantly perched on the George III-style chair. While Millais was clearly acknowledging the fancy portraits of Reynolds in which sitters enacted roles from the past, the stiffly posed central figure in The Minuet also recalls the Spanish infantas in Diego Velazquez's portraits . . . Millais's picture also engages with its conceit of contrasting static living flesh with 'animate' accessories, the graceful gesture of the dancing woman on the right of the wall hanging underscoring the frozen formailty of Effie, who is poised in emulation of the naturally sophisticated movements of the dancers reproduced in the tapestry'.5

    The present lot attracted much favourable attention when it was exhibited at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. 'Among the drawings on the screen, the most interesting are Sir John Millais's small replicas of a few of his famous pictures. In one frame there are three little drawings from 'The order of release', 'The proscribed royalist' and 'The Huguenot' [nos 1464-6]. 'My first sermon' (no 1467) and 'My second sermon' (1473) are also here; so too are 'The black brunswicker' (1473) and 'The Minuet' (1432). Of all these, the last named is by far the best. It has, indeed, a perfect harmony which is absent in some degree from the picture [the oil painting in the Proby collection] itself'.6 It is also interesting to note that Millais had also made other replicas of his most famous paintings, which were exhibited at the exhibition. Certainly, The Black Brunswicker belonging to Jesse Haworth (now in the Whitworth D.1937.16) was another replica by Millais and it is tempting to imagine the two brothers both asking for smaller copies by Millais of two of his most well-recieved and famous paintings. The fact that a number of replicas of Millais's most famous works exist, not only goes some way to showing Millais's working technique and that if demanded, he would happily produce smaller replicas, but also demonstrates that the wealthy merchants of Manchester were as happy to own replicas of the most important works by Millais, rather than, in some cases, entirely original subjects by the artist.

    It seems entirely fitting that the majority of works belonging to the Haworth brothers ended in the Whitworth Gallery. The origins of the Whitworth were in part, due to Sir William Agnew and the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. It had been suggested that some of the profits from the exhibition went towards setting up a permanent exhibition, and £40,000, known as the Jubilee Fund, was duly given. Along with Sir Joseph Whitworth's bequest, the foundations of the Whitworth had been laid. Sir William Agnew acted as the Gallery's agent and made his first purchase of watercolours in 1891. In total, 55 watercolours were purchased with the Jubilee Fund. The wealthy Manchester merchants purchased from William Agnew, who in turn persuaded them to exhibit their works at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition, which in part funded the Whitworth Gallery; and when the wealthy merchants passed away and their collections and fortunes dispersed, many of these works, ended up on the walls of a gallery for which they had raised funds to establish.

    1. Geoffrey Agnew, Agnew’s 1817-1967 (London, 1967), pp. 9-10.
    2. Agnew, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
    3. ex. cat., Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, Millais (Tate, 2007), p. 176
    4. Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, op. cit., p. 172
    5. Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, op, cit., p. 176.
    6. Ex. cat, Royal Jubilee Exhibition (1887, Manchester), no. 1432;
    Walter Armstrong, Critical notes reprinted from the 'Manchester Guardian', Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Fine Art Section (Manchester, 1887), p. 54;
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