OIL PAINTING: The Knight Errant, 1870
Millais exhibited The Knight Errant at the Royal Academy in 1870 using in the catalogue a text of his own invention: "The Order of the Knight Errant was instituted to protect widows and orphans, and to succour maidens in distress." This open-ended narrative contains all the ingredients of the Spenserian rescue scene: a distressed female captive is released at a critical moment by a fully armed knight who deftly fends off her attackers. In painting The Knight Errant, Millais set himself the ambitious task of representing a scene of poetic romance without resorting to the mannerisms of expression and pose that had in his opinion marred the productions of Etty's successors.
By depicting a full-blooded Englishwoman in the style of Etty and the Venetians, Millais was positing an alternative framework for the English nude in contrast to the generic ideal favoured by the classicists. Further, he was hoping to demonstrate an advance upon the achievement of Etty in that, while the painting was completed quickly (in under six weeks) using a loose alla prima technique, Millais's image was underpinned by a thoroughly sound anatomical draughtsmanship, the absence of which, it was by now generally agreed, had constituted the ultimate failure of Etty's ambitions as a painter of the nude. Again, this method might have been adopted as a healthy alternative to the elaborate and lengthy compositional procedures advocated by Leighton, Poynter and Moore.