A statue of John Everett Millais holding an artist's palette and brush stands outside Tate Britain. But the gallery's first exhibition of his work will open only this week.
Spanning his entire career, the exhibition demonstrates Millais's versatility, moving from his early Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including the famous image of Shakespeare's Ophelia , to society portraits and his later landscapes.
The only previous display of Millais's work on this scale was at the Royal Academy in 1967, but the Tate's show is much more comprehensive. Dr Alison Smith, the curator, said: "We've had a very fragmented view of Millais, but he is probably the most diverse of all British artists."
One of the most exciting exhibits is Sisters, a painting of Millais's daughters Mary, Effie and Alice Caroline, known as Carrie. Painted in 1868, when the girls were aged about eight, 10 and 5 respectively, it was last exhibited in Glasgow in 1901 and was known to the curators only as a print, before the original was traced to a private collection.
It demonstrates both Millais's pride in being a family man – he and his wife Effie, who left her husband John Ruskin for him amid great scandal, had eight children – and his belief that human beauty is seen in its truest form in children. Bubbles, a picture of a small boy gazing at a bubble, was famously used in an advertisement for Pears soap. The Tate exhibition features 12 landscapes – including The Fringe of the Moor, painted in 1874 – which Dr Smith said revealed him to be "the heir to Constable and Turner".
Born in 1829, Millais was a child prodigy who became a student at the Royal Academy at the age of 11. He was given a baronetcy in 1885, making him the first artist to receive a hereditary title. He died in 1896.