Obituary: Raoul Millais

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The Independent Culture
RAOUL MILLAIS, the portrait painter, equestrian artist and sportsman, inherited from his father and grandfather not only his artistic talent but also his love of animals, the countryside and the chase.

His grandfather, Sir John Everett Millais, founded, with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His father, John Guille (Johnny) Millais, was in his turn artist, soldier, naturalist, hunter, writer and explorer. Raoul followed his father, to a greater or lesser extent, in each of these callings.

Sent to Winchester during the First World War, Millais showed more enthusiasm for drawing and for illicit shooting and fishing expeditions than for the academic side of the school curriculum. The absence of answers to his final science examination was accounted for by his absence from nearly all the science lessons, and his logical explanation - that his poaching expeditions had been carried out in order to supplement the inadequate wartime rations - failed, unsurprisingly, to please his housemaster. He was referred to the Headmaster, who described him as "unquestionably the worst man I have ever had under my jurisdiction in this college".

On leaving Winchester, Millais attended the Byam Shaw Art School where the students were made "to draw nothing but busts and casts". Finding these subjects of little interest, he took himself as often as possible to London Zoo, where he spent hours sketching the big cats. He was accepted for the Royal Academy Schools in 1921 on the strength of a collection of his animal drawings rather than by means of the usual entrance exam of figure drawing and other conventional subjects. Among his fellow students were Lawrence Irving, John Skeaping and the Zinkeisen sisters.

In 1924 Millais went to Africa with his father. They spent three months there, mostly in the Sudan, during the course of which the younger man walked more than 2,500 miles, shot his first buffalo and collaborated with his father on the book Far Away Up the Nile (1924). The following year saw Millais in Angola in response to a challenge from his father to secure the head of the giant sable antelope. He returned with two heads, plus typhoid and dysentery.

In 1925 Millais and his first wife, the Canadian Clare Macdonnel, settled near Malmesbury in Wiltshire and he set himself up as a painter of equestrian portraits. The next 14 years were spent travelling throughout Britain and Ireland, painting and hunting. "I managed to persuade the taxman that to keep three horses, and pay a groom's wages and a hunt subscription were essential to my profession as a painter, which indeed they were. So the proceeds from my pictures made enough money to buy and keep horses."

In 1936 he held a one-man show of 50 pictures in London. All the pictures sold and he had enough commissions to last him several years. His hunting career, however, ended in 1939 following a bad fall in which he broke a bone in his neck, cracked a shoulder and dislocated his spine.

Despite these injuries Millais managed, on the outbreak of the Second World War, to bluff his way into the Army without a medical. He obtained a commission in the Scots Guards and his most interesting job was to command the company which guarded Rudolf Hess who "spoke very good English and seemed to be the most unlikely Nazi". Millais did several drawings of his prisoner and always regretted that he did not visit Hess subsequently in Spandau.

Millais was given leave by his regiment in 1943 to paint the classic winners Big Game and Sun Chariot for King George VI. Among the other top-class racehorses which he painted were Abernant, Airborne, Blenheim, Court Martial, Nijinsky, Tudor Minstrel and, for Sir Winston Churchill, Colonist II.

Although prevented from riding, Millais continued to ski, shoot and stalk after the war. He was a fine game shot but stalking was his real love and for 15 consecutive years he and his second wife, Kay, a close friend of Clare, Duchess of Sutherland, stayed with the Sutherlands at their home Dunrobin Castle to stalk and shoot.

Raoul and Kay Millais also spent part of each year in Spain where they had bought a derelict property in 1958 near the Andalusian coast. This house was sold 25 years later. They lived at Westcote Manor in the Cotswolds from 1947 until Kay's death in 1985 and Raoul remained there until his death.

Tall and distinguished in appearance, Raoul Millais was a man of great courtesy and charm. The subjects which he painted reflected those which he loved and included hunting, racing, bullfighting, stalking, shooting, fishing and skiing. He held surprisingly few exhibitions, the most recent being in 1982, at the Tryon Gallery in London. His approach to his art was refreshingly uncommercial and he was more inclined to give his pictures to his many friends than to sell them.

Claude Berry

Hesketh Raoul Lejarderai Millais, painter: born Horsham, Sussex 4 October 1901; married 1926 Clare Macdonnel (two sons; marriage dissolved), 1949 Kay Prior-Palmer (nee Bibby; died 1985; one son); died Westcote, Gloucestershire 18 November 1999.