Effie Gray

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Euphemia Chalmers Millais, Lady Millais née Gray, known as Effie Gray, Effie Ruskin or Effie Millais (1828 - 23 December 1897) was the wife of the critic John Ruskin, but left her husband without the marriage being consummated, and after the annulment of the marriage, married his protégé, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. This famous Victorian "love triangle" has been dramatised in several plays and an opera.

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Relationship with Ruskin and Millais

Effie Gray was born in Perth, Scotland and lived in Bowerswell, the house where Ruskin's grandfather had committed suicide. Her family knew Ruskin's father, who encouraged a match between them. In 1841, Ruskin wrote the fantasy novel The King of the Golden River for her. She was then twelve years old. After their marriage in 1846, they travelled to Venice where Ruskin was researching his book The Stones of Venice. However, their different temperaments soon caused problems as she was naturally outgoing and flirtatious, coming to feel oppressed by her husband's dogmatic personality.

When she met Millais five years later, she was still a virgin, as Ruskin had persistently put off consummating the marriage. His reasons are unclear, but they involved disgust with some aspect of her body. As she later wrote to her father,

"He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April."

Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings.

"It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."[2]

The reason for this disgust with "circumstances in her person" is unknown. Various suggestions have been made, including revulsion from either her pubic hair,[3] or menstrual blood.[4]

While married to Ruskin, she modelled for Millais' painting The Order of Release, in which she was depicted as the loyal wife of a Scottish rebel who has secured his release from prison. She then became close to Millais when he accompanied the couple on a trip to Scotland in order to paint Ruskin's portrait according to the critic's artistic principles. During this time, spent in Brig o' Turk in the Trossachs, they fell in love. She left Ruskin and, with the support of her family and a number of influential friends, filed for an annulment, causing a major public scandal; their marriage was annulled in 1854. In 1855, she married John Millais and eventually bore him eight children: Everett, born in 1856; George, born in 1857; Effie, born in 1858; Mary, born in 1860; Alice, born in 1862; Geoffroy, born in 1863; John in 1865; and Sophie in 1868. Their youngest son John Guille Millais was a notable bird artist and gardener. She also modelled for a number of his works, notably Peace Concluded (1856), which idealises her as an icon of beauty and fertility.

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