The Blind Girl (1856) is a painting by John Everett Millais from the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The scene was painted on the road just outside the quaint, medieval town of Wincheslea near the coast of southern England. What was Millas trying to capture in this painting.
In 19th century England, John Everett Millais established the Pre-Raphaelite movement in painting which shifted away from the stiff and heroic, neo-classical themes that were the staple of his time. Millais and his fellow Pre-Raphaelite companions explored narratives in their works that brought us into the effeminate world of nurturing care, empathy, and intuition. Millais’ painting The Blind Girl took us into that world with two girls who had opposing abilities.
Millais never revealed any specific meaning in his painting, Millais left it to the viewer to glean from the painting what they will. No doubt though, he captured and highlighted a central part of our shared human experience, that we are wholly dependent upon each other to make it in our lives.
The sweet painting guides us into the scene and the story of the two girl’s relationship with one another through our senses. The warm rays of sun soak the motionless blind girl, the viewer clued in by the butterfly that safely rests on her shoulder without any trepidation. A sign Pity the Blind hangs around her neck as a concertina rests on her lap. She moves blades of grass through her fingers on her right hand, and clasps the other girl’s hand tightly with her left.
The scene conveys a bit of commonly held wisdom that our hyper-individualized society might do well to reflect on, we live in the same situation as these girls with every aspect of our lives being dependent upon another.
In the traditional view of the world, the family and the bonds with others were one of the most important facets of a person’s life and served many of the crucial needs a person would have, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Even an impoverished family could live a very contented and purposeful life if they had a strong family or ties with others. The emphasis in the past was put on service towards the other and away from the self. John Everett Millais beautifully illustrated the two girls complimenting and looking out for each other, not reveling in a comfortable life, quite the opposite, but being fulfilled and enriched with a shared bond that goes beyond the value of money or material wealth.
Millais’ painting offers a meditation from our modern world back into that important aspect of the human condition that our traditional wisdom and values have given us, for us as a society to honor the bonds that tie us together by selflessness and servitude to others. A beautiful and richly rewarding life is one where we can unequivocally put our lives safely in other’s hands. With the girls in the painting, they can go through life, even in its many setbacks, and confide in and enrich each other’s spirits.