Elizabeth Gaskell and Effie Ruskin née Gray, later Lady Millais

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

The full-length portrait is of Effie Gray. She married famous art critic John Ruskin but their marriage was never consummated. Pre-Raphealite artist, John Everett Millais, was brought into Ruskin’s circle when his paintings started being accepted by the Royal Academy. Effie modeled for him in Order of the Release an apt title; the couple fell in love and Effie had her marriage with Ruskin annulled.

Described as

An unusually beautiful woman, tall with auburn hair and heavy- lidded, gray-blue eyes… Scottish to the core …She was a superb horsewoman, a concert-level pianist and spoke five languages. Her letters… reveal a woman of charm, humour and generosity.

Elizabeth Gaskell was connected to Effie through the Byerley’s School, where they were both educated. Gaskell wrote a letter to John Forster May 17, 1854:

Millai's "Order of the Release"

I have know Mrs. Ruskin for some time, –she was at the same school as I was– though of course she was much younger. Still we had the bond of many mutual schoolfellows. Now don’t think me hard upon her if I tell you that I have known of her. She is very pretty, very clever, —and very vain.

As a girl when she was staying in Manchester her delight was to add to the list of her offers (27 I think she was at, then) but she never cared for any one of them. It was her boast to add to this list in every town she visited just like somebody in the Arabian Nights, who was making up her list of 1000 lovers.

Effie Grey was engaged at the very time she accepted Mr. Ruskin, he did not know of it till after their marriage. I don’t think she has any more serious faults than vanity & cold-heartedness… she really is very close to a charming character; if she had had the small pox she would have been so. I’m sure you will not repeat what I have said of her.

A recently discovered portrait of Effie Gray by Millais

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Audrey says:

    Great post! It’s fascinating to see all the connections among these writers and artists, isn’t it?

    1. It is! Gaskell knew so many great minds and talents of the Victorian era.

  2. David Baldock says:

    I am always amazed at how closely knit those actively involved in the arts during this time were. I loved the BBC programme on the Pre-Raphelites and did know of Effie’s connection to Elizabeth Gaskell. Thank you for letting us know.

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