It is the only great picture exhibited this year; but this is very great. The immortal element is in it to the full. It is easily understood, and the public very generally understand it. Various small cavils have been made at it, chiefly by conventionalists, who never ask how the thing is, but fancy for themselves how it ought to be. I have heard it said, for instance, that the fireman's arm should not have looked so black in the red light. If people would only try the experiment, they would find that near black, compared with other colours, is always black. Coals do not look red in a fire, but where they are red hot. In fact, the contrast between any dark colour and a light one, is always nearly the same, however high we raise the light that falls on both.1 Paul Veronese often paints local colour darker in the lights than in the shadow, generally equal in both. The glow that is mixed with the blackness is here intensely strong; but, justly, does not destroy the nature of the blackness. The execution of the picture is remarkably bold in some respects imperfect. I have heard it was hastily finished; but, except in the face of the child kissing the mother, it could not be much bettered. For there is a true sympathy between the impetuousness of execution and the haste of the action.
[The origin of this picture and the circumstances in which it was painted are fully described in The Life and Letters of Millais, vol. i. pp. 247-257. Millais had taken great pains with the preliminary studies, but was behind-hand with the picture itself. “On the last day but one he began to work as soon as it was daylight, and worked on all through the night and following day until the van arrived for the picture. His friend Charles Collins sat up with him and painted the fire-hose, whilst Millais worked at other parts ; and in the end a large piece of sheet-iron was placed on the floor, upon which a flaming brand was put and worked from amidst suffocating smoke." The picture is now in the collection of Mr. Holbrook Gaskell.]