The Order of Release

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The Order of Release, 1746
Millais Order of Release.jpg
Artist John Everett Millais
Year 1852
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 102.9 cm × 73.7 cm (40.5 in × 29.0 in)
Location Tate Britain, London

The Order of Release, 1746 is a painting by John Everett Millais exhibited in 1853. It is notable for marking the beginnings of Millais's move away from the highly detailed Pre-Raphaelitism of his early years. Effie Gray, who later left her husband for the artist, modelled for the principal figure.

The painting depicts the wife of a rebel Scottish soldier, who has been imprisoned after the Jacobite rising of 1745, arriving with an order securing his release. She holds her child, showing the order to a guard, while her husband embraces her.

The Illustrated London News reviewed the painting as follows:

It is time now that we speak of Millais – Millais the Pre-Raffaelite; the "pretender" Millais that was; the "usurper" Millais that is; the "legitimate" Millais that perhaps (much virtue in that little word) may be; and who has certainly a larger crowd of admirers in his little corner in the Middle Room than all the Academicians put together command; . . .
Truth to say, Mr. Millais, in this "Order of Release" (265), has achieved for himself an "order of merit" worth more than any academic honour, and has earned a fame which a whole corporate academy might be proud to portion amongst its constituent members. Whilst we admit – nay assert this – we would by no means wish to be understood as enrolling ourselves incontinently of this young artist’s "party" (for there is partisanship in everything, even in art); but simply as asserting that Pre-Raffaelitism (or rather the artists who have been foolishly styled Pre-Raffaelites) is a "great fact," and perhaps may lead to the regeneration of art in this country;. . .
The subject is simply that of a wife, with child in her arms, coming with an order of release for her husband, who has been taken in the Civil Wars. The husband, overcome with emotions, and weak from a recent wound (his arm is in a sling), can but fall upon her neck and weep; moan, "firm of purpose," sheds no tear; she has none to shed; but her eye is red and heavy with weeping and waking; and she looks at the stern and unconcerned gaoler with a proud look, expressing that she has won the reward for all her trouble past. The colouring, the textural execution, are marvellous (for these degenerate days).[1]

The dark, generalised background is a departure from the highly detailed backgrounds of earlier works such as Ophelia, as is the emphatic chiaroscuro. However, the portrayal of tense relationships disrupted by historical dramas was a continuation of the theme of A Huguenot and The Proscribed Royalist, 1651.

While working on the painting, Millais fell in love with Effie, the wife of his principal supporter, the critic John Ruskin. A study for the painting has a drawing of her head on one side and an image of a man kneeling in supplication to a woman on the other, labelled "accepted".

In popular culture[edit]

The title of the painting was adopted for the book The Order of Release by William Milbourne James about the love triangle, and also of a radio play about it broadcast in 1998.[2] The painting of the picture is dramatised onstage in the play Mrs Ruskin (2003) by Kim Morrissey,[3] and in the TV series Desperate Romantics (2009).

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