Sophia (Sophy) Gray was just thirteen when she posed for this painting, which has been called one of the most remarkable realist portraits of the nineteenth century.
As well as being one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millais married Ruskin's former wife Effie Gray, who was Sophy's older sister and there is evidence that Sophy was a 'go between' for her sister, taking messages to Millais and helped her Effie elope.
Inevitably Millais fell in love with both sisters and began drawing Sophie when she was just 10 years old. Millais wrote 'What a delightful little shrewd damsel Sophia is. I think her extremely beautiful and that she will even improve, as yet she does not seem to have the slightest idea of it herself which makes her prettier - I am afraid that ignorance cannot last long.'
Sophy became the model for many of Millais' Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Their relationship eventually became unacceptable when she twenty four and Effie sent her sister away. The trauma of the separation led to Sophy having a nervous breakdown. It was five years before she recovered enough to meet and marry Sir James Key Caird, a wealthy businessman. It was not a happy marriage and Sophy, suffering from anorexia, committed suicide nine years later in 1882. Sir John Millais was knighted in 1885 and was the first artist to be made a Baronet. He became President of the
in 1896 but sadly died the same year. Royal Academy