Millais’s period of greatest artistic achievement came in the 1850s. The Return of the Dove to the Ark (1851) was admired by both the English essayist and critic John Ruskin and the French author Théophile Gautier; and The Order of Release (1853), which included a portrait of his future wife Effie Gray (then unhappily married to Ruskin, whose portrait Millais also painted), was praised by Eugène Delacroix in 1855 and earned for its artist his associateship to the Royal Academy in 1853. In 1856 Millais painted one of his greatest public successes, The Blind Girl—a tour de force of Victorian sentiment and technical facility.
In 1863 Millais became full academician, and by this time his style had broadened and his content altered toward a more deliberately popular, less didactic approach. He executed illustrations for George Dalziel’s Parables (1864) and E. Moxon’s edition of Tennyson’s poems and contributed to Once a Week, Good Words and other periodicals. Millais’s later work is undoubtedly of poorer overall quality—a deterioration of which he was fully aware. In 1870 appeared the first of his pure landscapes, Chill October. Many of these landscapes are of Perthshire, where Millais shot and fished in the autumn. Many portraits belong to this late period, including those of William Gladstone, of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and of Cardinal Newman. Millais was created a baronet in 1885 and was elected president of the Royal Academy in 1896.