Sunday, 28 January 2018

Matching the Millais in 2015

The Boyhood of Raleigh  by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1870 
Tate Britain Collection 

'Matching the Millais in 2015' is a rewrite of an article I wrote a few years ago, just as Fairlynch Museum's Sir Walter Ralegh Room was about to open.  The article has been edited and gathered in with all the other material on this Raleigh 400 blog devoted to Sir Walter in 2018, the 400th anniversary of his death. 

And now Fairlynch Museum does indeed have the chance of bringing 'The Boyhood' back to Budleigh for a third time. There could not be a more appropriate year for the painting to be shown in the place where it was first created. 

Please help with this major project by giving what you can. Click on the Museum's website to link to our fund-raising efforts.  


'We’ve added a bit to the boat so it’s not cut off. And there’s more sky than in the original.'

'So it’s going to be an improvement on Millais’ version?'


That was just one of many snatches of conversation I heard as I watched members of a local art club at work in 2015 on an unusual project. It was part of the preparations to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of one of East Devon’s best known historical figures. 

Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of the young Walter Ralegh and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert sitting rapt as they listen to an old sailor’s tales is one of Tate Britain’s treasures.  Budleigh Salterton people will tell you that the stone wall in the painting can still be seen today, opposite The Octagon, the building where Millais stayed in 1870. 

It seemed only right that this Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece should be displayed in Budleigh’s Fairlynch Museum to celebrate its centenary. 

So indeed it was in 1970, shortly after the museum was founded back in July 1967. It was a masterstroke of publicity for the town, with annual visitor numbers at the museum shooting up from just over 2,000 to almost 12,000 in the space of a year. 

The feat was repeated as a millennial event for the museum in 2000. 

But doubts were expressed about whether it would be third time lucky for Budleigh

So visitors to the Museum in 2015 saw not the original painting by Millais on display in but a copy which was a remarkable collaborative effort by amateur artists from Budleigh Salterton’s Venture Art Club. 

The painting was due for completion in time for the opening of the Museum’s Sir Walter Ralegh Room on 4 April that year. 

It was all part of the build-up to 2018, when Sir Walter Ralegh’s death on the scaffold after his eventful life would be marked with more tributes to a great Devon hero. 

Art Club Chairman Chris Stacey explained: 'We started immediately after Christmas with a postcard of the original painting. Then we made a grid out of it, so we had 30 panels for 21 members to do. We’ve added a bit of extra to make up to 30 panels.'  

At 12.30pm on Tuesday 3 February 2015, the panels were  brought together for the first time. 

'It's a historic moment! We must have a record!' 

'Look! The sailor’s fingers don’t match his hand.' 

'Just a dab more Scarlet Lake I think.' 

'I love the toucan!'

'Those flowers don’t look quite right.'

'I wanted to paint a complete ship but I could only find a photo of a Dutch vessel to copy from. Nobody’ll notice, will they?' 

'Looks good to me!'

'That  sea needs a few waves.'

'What do you think? That’s not how Millais has done it.'

'That’s Iris’ work. She helps with costumes at the museum.'

'Hang on! He doesn’t lose his head until later.' 

'That sailor's foot looks as if it could do with a wash.'

'Just a little more burnt umber, I think.'

'Still some way to go but we’re getting there.' 

'We’ve had a lot of fun with this project.' 

'It’s been a team effort - a lovely thing to do as a group.'

'I bet you couldn’t do any better.'


'And of course it made a good story for the media.' 


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