Skip to main content

Philip Hermogenes Calderon correspondence from John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton

Call Number: MSS 3

Scope and Contents

The collection comprises letters reflecting the last years in the lives of both Sir John Everett Millais and Frederic, Lord Leighton. They date from the 1880s and 1890s, and make frequent reference to the inner workings of the Royal Academy, in which Millais, Leighton, and their addressee, Philip Calderon, were involved. At this time, Calderon was serving as the Keeper of the Royal Academy and Leighton as the President. Towards the end of his life, Leighton was forced to resign his position in order to embark on travels meant to improve his health. Millais, himself suffering from the throat cancer that would eventually kill him, served as his substitute in 1895 and formally assumed the President's role in 1896, after Leighton's death. These letters evidence Millais's anxieties about the demands of the President's position, with particular regard to any speaking duties.

The letters from Leighton and Millais are both written in a casual, intimate, tone, suggesting a longstanding acquaintance with Calderon. Leighton's missives generally concern aspects of his profession and artistic philosophy, and are sometimes heated in nature when discussing current affairs in the academy. Millais's seem to reflect a closer friendship with Calderon, and while addressing both professional and personal topics, are genial and frank in nature. While he voices concerns about the future of painting and other thoughts about creative processes, he also writes friendly greetings from his home in Scotland, discussing his hunting and fishing successes, and asking Calderon for gossip from London.

Leighton's letters, the last of which date to just a couple weeks prior to his death, do not show signs that he was slowing in his dedication to painting. He asks Calderon, in a letter from 1894 or 1895, about plans for a mural at the Royal Exchange, a project that he himself would undertake. Millais's letters, however, evidence his occasional melancholy about the worth of artistic pursuits (despite his continuing work at this time) and, in particular, are movingly honest about the artist's failing health. Millais confesses to discomfort, fear, and despair in his last letters to Calderon. His final communication, written on a slate, was transcribed on paper by his daughter Mary, and includes a note from her regarding the tracheotomy that became necessary to help Millais breathe in the last month of his life.

It appears that some of the letters that Calderon wrote to Millais during these years are in the Morgan Library collection. While Calderon's letters to Leighton are not available, a collection of contemporary letters from Leighton to other correspondents is located in the Getty Research Institute.


  • 1886-1896


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

All letters in original condition. Most of Millais's letters include envelopes; Leighton's letters do not include envelopes. Several pieces (particularly in Leighton's letters) are written on black-bordered mourning stationery. Most feature letterheads (some embossed) indicating their origins at various locations.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired October 2008, Paul Mellon Fund.


The collection is arranged in two series: I. Letters from John Everett Millais to P.H. Calderon. II. Letters from Frederic Leighton to P.H. Calderon. Letters are in chronological order within each series, with undated material following the dated items.


0.42 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


This collection includes letters sent by John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton to Philip Hermogenes Calderon from 1886 to 1896.

Biographical / Historical

Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833-1898) was born in Poitiers, France, the son of a French mother and a Spanish father. Philip and his parents moved to London in the 1840s, and he began his artistic training in 1850. He first exhibited a work at the Royal Academy in 1853. Calderon's father died in 1854, leaving little money to his family. Calderon would support his mother for the rest of his life. Calderon began painting portraits at this point in his career, and became a member of the St. John's Wood Clique, a group of young artists whose primary interest was in historical genre painting. The Clique was unlike the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, however, in that it had no particular 'program' or project for English art. Rather, the artists of the Clique pooled their critical abilities for the end of improving their own talents. In the 1860s, Calderon was at the peak of his career, earning a comfortable living and receiving considerable critical accolades for his work. He moved in wide social circles at this time, befriending other artists and writers including Dickens and Trollope. By the late 1880s, however, the St. John's Wood Clique had begun to break up and Calderon had fallen on somewhat harder times. He was given the post of Keeper at the Royal Academy in 1887, a position that he took very seriously, perhaps to the detriment of his own painting. Poor health began plaguing Calderon in the 1890s, and he died on April 30, 1898 at his home in Piccadilly.

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) was a well-established British painter by the late Victorian era. Educated largely in Europe, he began exhibiting his art, both within and outside of the Royal Academy, in the 1850s. Leighton tended to focus on classical subjects in his art. His travels in the Middle East during the mid to late nineteenth century gave him inspiration for his paintings as well. While Leighton was never as financially successful nor as professionally well-received as some of his peers, he was nevertheless elected President of the Royal Academy in 1878. From the 1860s onward, he lived in a sumptuous house on Holland Park Road, the interiors of which were lavishly decorated in Victorian Orientalist style. The highlight of the home's interior is the Arab Hall, an addition made to the building in the 1870s, with walls covered in precious blue Islamic tile. Although Leighton took his duties as Academy president seriously, he continued painting all the while. His strenuous pace of life caught up to him, perhaps, in 1894, when he began suffering from poor health. Although he resigned his leadership position in order to travel and rest in 1895, he died on January 25, 1896 at his home in London.

Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was born in Southampton, and spent a large portion of his childhood in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. When he exhibited a particular talent in painting at an early age, his parents moved to London in order to allow him to train as an artist. He was enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1840, becoming the youngest student in the institution's history. Millais received many accolades for his work while in training. Although his education had been at the Royal Academy, as a young professional he felt that it was important for artists to look to their late Medieval and early Renaissance predecessors as the paragons of artistic achievement. In 1848, at his home, he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with his friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Eventually, the Brotherhood would come to include other members, all of whom espoused the same artistic and intellectual philosophy of returning to the bright colors, detail, and compositional techniques of early European artists. While Millais adhered closely to this philosophy at the early end of his career, and produced some of his best-known pieces during this time, he would eventually return to more traditional and popular approaches. He enjoyed considerable financial and social success as a painter, building an opulent home at Palace Gate, in Kensington, London, in the 1870s. At this stage in his career, Millais painted a number of portraits and some sentimental pieces, including his two most famous works, "Bubbles," and "Cherry Ripe." He was made a Baronet in 1885 (and was the first artist to be granted this honor) owing to his popularity and renown in England. Millais continued painting throughout his life and, although suffering from throat cancer by the 1890s, served as President of the Royal Academy from 1895-1896, taking the position over from Frederic Leighton. Millais died on August 13, 1896 at his home in London.


  • Barrington, Mrs. Russell. The Life, Letters, and Work of Frederic Leighton. London: G. Allen, 1906
  • Fleming, Gordon. John Everett Millais: A Biography. London: Constable, 1998.
  • Hacking, Juliet. Princes of Victorian Bohemia: Photographs by David Wilkie Wynfield. Munich, New York: Prestel, 2000.
  • Robbins, Daniel. Leighton House Museum, Holland Park Road. London: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Museums and Arts Service, 2005.
Guide to the Philip Hermogenes Calderon Correspondence from John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton
compiled by Fiona Robinson; edited by Francis Lapka
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts
1080 Chapel Street
P. O. Box 208280
New Haven CT 06520-8280 US


1080 Chapel Street
New Haven , CT 06510

Opening Hours