- Bubbles (painting)
John Everett Millais, Bt
type=Oil on canvas
Lady Lever Art Gallery
"Bubbles", originally entitled "A Child's World", is a painting by Sir
John Everett Millaisthat became famous when it was used over many generations in advertisements for Pears soap. During Millais's lifetime it led to widespread debate about the relationship between art and advertising.
The painting was one of many child pictures for which Millais had become well known in his later years. It was modelled by his five year old grandson
William Milbourne Jamesand was based on 17th century Dutch precursors in the tradition of vanitasimagery, which commented upon the transience of life. These sometimes depicted young boys blowing bubbles, typically set against skulls and other signs of death. [http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=7&id=299 Lady Lever Art Gallery: Artwork of the Month - August, 2006, 'Bubbles', by Sir John Everett Millais] ]
The painting portrays a young golden-haired boy looking up at a bubble, symbolising the beauty and fragility of life. On one side of him is a young plant growing in a pot, and on the other is a fallen broken pot, emblematic of death. He is spot-lit against a gloomy background.
The painting was first exhibited in 1886 under the title "A Child's World" in
Grosvenor Galleryin London, and was acquired by Sir William Ingram of the Illustrated London News. The painting was reproduced and presented in the magazine as a colour plate, where it was seen by William Barratt, managing director of A&F Pears. Barratt purchased the original painting from Ingram for £2,200 which gave him exclusive copyright on the picture. Millais' permission was sought in order to alter the picture by the addition of a bar of Pears Soap, so that it could be used for the purposes of advertising. At the time Millais was one of the most popular artists in Britain and he was initially apprehensive the prospect of his work and his grandson, being the subject of commercial exploitation. However when he was shown the proofs of the proposed advertisements he grew to appreciate the idea, which portrayed the soap as if the child had used it to make the bubbles. [ [http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/about/news/newsarticle.asp?id=544 Bubbles painting on display] ] Following the success of this advertisement Millais was attacked in print by the novelist Marie Corelliwho accused him in her novel "The Sorrows of Satan" of prostituting his talent to sell soap. Millais wrote to her pointing out that he had sold the copyright of the painting and so was unable to stop the company from altering it in reproduction. Millais's son later claimed that he had tried to stop the advertisement being made, but had been advised that he had no legal power to do so. Corelli retracted her comments in a later edition of the book.
The advertisement became so well known that William James, who later rose to the rank of Admiral in the British navy, was known as "Bubbles" for the rest of his life.
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