THE SUBJECT OF A PORTRAIT

In 1853 the most brilliant young painter of Victorian England, John Everett Millais, travelled to Scotland with the country's leading art critic, John Ruskin, and his young wife Euphemia ('Effie'). While in Scotland, the artist was to paint the critic's portrait. But the marriage was built on vital secrets, and the events that followed became both the most famous love story, and the most famous scandal, to involve a young woman, an author and an artist, in nineteenth century England.

 

Still however we do not know exactly 'what happened in the Highlands' -- or in London, afterwards. The Subject of a Portrait recreates those dilemmas. It catches the excitement of watching an artist, torn by conflicts, produce a great painting. A young wife must change the foundations of her life -- and of herself. And a great critic gains revolutionary insights at the cost of his personal disaster. The figure 'John' is a new creation in fiction.

 

'Excellent; I was taken by every page; more, every sentence. It is beautifully and startlingly written, the sudden shifts and turns, impulse and counter-impulse within and from these remarkable people. A very fine love story.'  CHRISTOPHER RICKS

 

'A true page-turner . . . it becomes impossible to put down.'  The PreRaphaelite Society Review

 

‘The characters of Millais and Effie are far from romantic stereotypes; their passion is depicted as convincingly as Heathcliff and Cathy’s. But it’s the strangely sympathetic portrayal of the monstrous innocent Ruskin, with his angels and demons in constant conflict, that dominates the narrative and lingers in the memory.’  Tredynas Days

 

'Powered by lyrical prose of the highest order . . . John Harvey's evocation of Victorian England and its climate of sexual repression will be hard to match. So too will the subtlety and eye for intimate detail with which he brings alive an achingly beautiful love story.'  FARZANA SHAIKH

 

'If you’re a fan of art history, fictional biographies or 19th century settings, this wonderfully atmospheric tale should please . . . the personalities ring true and each will surprise the reader in turn.’  historical-fiction.com

  

Editions: Polar Books, 2014, 2015. With ten illustrations, including four collages by the author.

© 2019 by John Harvey, jrh49@cam.ac.uk 

Novelist, art critic, literary critic and Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge

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