Blowing Bubbles in Painting
One of the most famous canvases by Sir John Millais was painted in 1885-86 - a boy blowing bubbles with a pipe and a bowl of soap suds. The boy was the artist’s grandson, Willie Milbourne James, aged about five.
The painting was acquired by Sir William Ingram of the Illustrated London News, it was reproduced and presented in the weekly newspaper as a colour plate, where it was seen by Thomas J. Barratt, managing director of A&F Pears. Barratt purchased the original painting from Ingram for £2,200 which gave him exclusive copyright on the picture. Millais' permission was sought in order to alter the picture by the addition of a bar of Pears Soap, so that it could be used for the purposes of advertising. At the time Millais was one of the most popular artists in Britain and he was initially apprehensive the prospect of his work and his grandson, being the subject of commercial exploitation. However when he was shown the proofs of the proposed advertisements he grew to appreciate the idea, which portrayed the soap as if the child had used it to make the bubbles.
William Milbourne James later rose to the rank of Admiral in the British navy, he was known as "Bubbles" for the rest of his life.