John Everett Millais, The Black Brunswicker, detail, 1860, oil…

John Everett Millais, The Black Brunswicker, detail, 1860, oil on canvas, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside

This painting was inspired by the Black Brunswickers, a German volunteer corps of the Napoleonic Wars. Millais reduced the presence of Napoleon to an engraving after Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, in the top left of the painting.

Millais depicts a soldier about to depart for battle. His sweetheart, wearing a ballgown, restrains him, trying to push the door closed. In fact, the composition revolves around the contrast of the man’s black broadcloth uniform and the woman’s pearl-white satin dress in a moment of tender conflict.

In a letter to his wife, Effie Gray, Millais described his inspiration for the work: “My subject is connected with the Brunswick Cavalry at Waterloo…They were nearly annihilated but performed prodigies of valor… The costume and incident are so powerful that I am astonished it has never been touched upon before.”