Recommended by Graeme Humphries – Deputy Director (Administration & Marketing)

  • Sir John Everett Millais / 1851
  • Oil on Mahogany/ 59 x 49cm

When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’ (1830):

She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

Both the painting and the poem are inspired by the character of Mariana, from Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’, who is abandoned by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry is lost in a shipwreck.

What I like about this painting, as with many pre-Raphaelite works, is the richness of the detail, the praise of which by the critic Ruskin launched the careers of Millais and the rest of the brotherhood.

The autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin’s fulfilment with Mariana’s frustration and longing. The motto on the heraldic window panel “In coelo quies” means “In Heaven there is rest” and clearly refers to Mariana’s desperate plight. The mouse in the right foreground is Tennyson’s mouse that “Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d, / Or from the crevice peer’d about”.

Most striking of all for me, however, is the deep blue velvet dress and its jewelled belt which you feel you could almost reach out and touch.