The stark realism of Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents offended many Victorian sensibilities, including that of Charles Dickens. Millais modeled the carpentry workshop in the painting after one he found in London. Equally, the characters in the painting are realistic depictions, free of the rarified treatment of religious subjects of the Renaissance, one of the goals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais’ commitment of realism brought him a step farther away from earlier movements and one step closer to modernism.
With all those mouths to feed, Millais’ work took on a less ideological, broader appeal, which some applauded and others criticized. He modeled his new approach on the works of the Old Masters, especially Velazquez and Rembrandt. Paradoxically, with this movement towards the past, Millais took another step towards modernism, as this increased freedom led him to champion the works of Whistler (his earlier friend Ruskin’s nemesis). Millais stands as one of those great transitional artists of the Victorian period, with one foot in the past and one in the future, straddling the fault line of modernism.