the most sickly Millais possible

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Senior Member
This is an excerpt from Life after life by Kate Atkinson.

Mr Miller, in an effort to make the cellar ‘homely’ (something it could never be), had taped some reproductions of ‘great English art’, as he called it, against the sandbagged walls. These colour plates – The Haywain, Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (how smug they looked) and Bubbles (the most sickly Millais possible, in Ursula’s opinion) – looked suspiciously as if they had been pilfered from expensive reference books on art.

I don't understand the meaning of "the most sickly Millais possible" in this case. Would you like to explain the meaning of it to me? Thank you.
  • velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    According to an article on the Internet, Millais was very popular in his day but has been criticized since for his “sickly sweet” portraits of children. Millais painted Bubbles in 1886, using his grandson as his model...

    "Sickly sweet" = nauseatingly sentimental.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Sickly as in sickeningly sentimental. Some Millais is still popular (Ophelia is always a favourite), but few people could like Bubbles today.


    Senior Member
    English English
    Bubbles is a famous notorious painting by Millais, which was a big success in the 19th century when tastes were decidedly sentimental/sickly.

    It's notorious because an even more sickly 'cleaned-up' version of it was used to advertise soap:


    Note the bar of soap added, bottom right.
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