SIR JOHN MILLAIS, PRESIDENT of the ROYAL ACADEMY of ARTS, & ‘BUBBLES’
The ‘Post Card For Inland Postage Only’ has a pair of the bantam green ½d Victoria ‘Postage’ stamp canceled with the duplex MAFFRA/ MR 18/ 07/ VICTORIA postmark with the barred numeral ‘477', is addressed to a school girl in Bendigo (Figure 1).
The reverse shows the celebrated but criticized painting of "Bubbles" by Sir John Millais, Bt., P.R.A. ‘After the Original in the possession of Messrs. Pears.’ The controversy generated by this delightful picture has to do with the bar of soap labeled with ‘PEARS’ near the right bottom corner which also shows the date, ‘1886' to the right of the soap (Figure 2).
Pears transparent soap was first produced commercially in 1789 by Andrew Pears at a factory just off Oxford Street in London. Andrew was born in Cornwall ca. 1770 and he went to London in 1787, where he trained as a barber, and according to Pears Soap records was the world’s first registered brand. Andrew developed a gentle soap based on glycerin and the novelty of its transparency gave it a marketing advantage. A grandson Francis joined the business in 1838, and when Andrew retired, Francis was left in charge. In 1851 the company was awarded the prize medal for soap at The Great Exhibition. Thomas Barratt, Francis’ son-in-law eventually took over the firm, and Thomas has sometimes been referred to as the ‘father of modern advertising’. Certainly the following Pears soap advertising did not meet with the opposition seen with Millais’ painting (Figure 3).
A modern-day example of the hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic soap with the characteristic colour, transparency and concave oval shape (the concave shape is not molded but is due to shrinkage while the soap is drying) is shown in Figure 4.
John Everett Millais (1829-96) was a British painter and illustrator and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.. He came from a prominent Jersey-based family and he exhibited early artistic talent, which gained hi entry at age of 11 in the Royal Academy schools. All his early works were painted with great detail, often concentrating on the beauty and complexity of the natural world.. After he married artist John Ruskin’s divorced wife in 1856, Millais began to paint in a broader style which was condemned by Ruskin as "a catastrophe". The new style may have been prompted by his need to increase his artistic output to support his burgeoning family of eight children. Millais argued as he grew more confident as a painter, he could paint with greater boldness. A picture of Millais is shown in Figure 5.
Unsympathetic critics such as William Morris accused Millais as "selling out" to achieve popularity and wealth; when "Bubbles" was painted by Millais in 1885-86, it was first bought by Sir William Ingram, proprietor of the Illustrated London News, who used it as a Christmas illustration. Subsequently it was bought in 1887 by Thomas Barratt of Messrs A. and F. Pears, to use it as an advertisement by adding a bar of soap and the company name. It was said that Millais was furious, but he could do nothing about it, as Pears had the copyright for the picture. His detractors, particularly Marie Corelli, were vehemently against such commercialization.
As a non sequitor, the small boy blowing bubbles has been identified as one of the artist’s grandson, Willie James aged about 4, who later became an admiral!