Synopsis and Comments on ‘The Subject of a Portrait’


The Subject of a Portrait by John Harvey

In 1853 the most brilliant young painter of Victorian England, John Everett Millais, travelled to Scotland with the country’s leading art critic, John Ruskin, and his young wife Euphemia (‘Effie’). While in Scotland, the artist was to paint the critic’s portrait. But the marriage was built on vital secrets, and the events that followed became both the most famous love story, and the most famous scandal, to involve a young woman, an author and an artist, in nineteenth century England.

The Subject of a Portrait catches the excitement of watching an artist, torn by conflicts, produce a great painting. A young wife must change the foundations of her life — and of herself. And a great critic gains revolutionary insights at the cost of his personal disaster.

‘A discerning and rather sumptuous study of one of history’s most infamous love triangles.’ Independent

‘Excellent; I was taken by every page; more, every sentence. It is beautifully and startlingly written, the sudden shifts and turns, impulse and counter-impulse within and from these remarkable people. A very fine love story.’ Christopher Ricks

‘A true page-turner . . . it becomes impossible to put down.’ The PreRaphaelite Society Review

‘The novel is so alive, so full of movement and momentum.’ Anita Desai

‘The characters of Millais and Effie are far from romantic stereotypes; their passion is depicted as convincingly as Heathcliff and Cathy’s. But it’s the strangely sympathetic portrayal of the monstrous innocent Ruskin, with his angels and demons in constant conflict, that dominates the narrative and lingers in the memory.’ Tredynas Days

‘Powered by lyrical prose of the highest order . . . John Harvey’s evocation of Victorian England and its climate of sexual repression will be hard to match. So too will the subtlety and eye for intimate detail with which he brings alive an achingly beautiful love story.’ Farzana Shaikh

‘If you’re a fan of art history, fictional biographies or 19th century settings, this wonderfully atmospheric tale should please . . . the personalities ring true and each will surprise the reader in turn.’ historical-fiction.comS

Praise for Julietta Harvey’s Novels:

‘Fresh, delightful and arresting. The sweep and momentum of history are maintained throughout like a rainbow arc through the murky sky of war and disruption. Julietta Harvey’s first novel combines dry wit with passion, and a sense of history with a wonderfully sensuous awareness of the immediate.’
Anita Desai, The Spectator

Familiar Wars is magnificently readable. The refugee Gregoris Gregoriou and his family are brilliantly portrayed, in time of war, in commercial success and disaster, in domestic and public dissension. The sketching of a huge cast of characters through action makes this book both powerful and memorable. By the end we are all Gregoris, Anastasia, Eleni; we have become Greeks caught up in a rich convincing saga. This is, in every sense, a big book.’
Stanley Middleton

‘Absolutely original. The first novel of Julietta Harvey is one of the best of the year and should be a favourite for the Booker Prize. The power of invention, of imagination, of creative force, make one hope her readers will be legion.’
Ariel Daigre, BBC World Service

Familiar Wars grants a magnificent sense, at once saddening and cheering, of what’s become of Homer’s people in our time, but it’s even more magnificent as a sustained ode, a long poem to the mercantile spirit and the things that human beings lovingly craft and greedily trade.’
Valentine Cunningham, The Observer