This painting is based on a design drawn by Millais for engraving by the Dalziel Brothers to illustrate The Parables of Our Lord, published in 1863. The book featured twenty woodcuts from designs by Millais. In the scene depicted, a field has been planted with good seed but an enemy comes at night to sow tares, or evil seeds, among the wheat. Millais' composition and light effects convey the terror of this story. The enemy is a figure of horrifying ugliness, stooping to his evil work and surrounded by darkness. Streaks of light break the gloom of the sky and cast sinister gleams on the figure from behind, illuminating his bare feet and the arm that is sowing the tares. The single-figure composition is unconventional for Biblical history painting. The painting was offered to the Royal Academy by Millais as his Diploma work, but was rejected. There is a smaller oil version at Buscot Park and a watercolour in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

  • Presented by the Public Picture Gallery Fund, 1925.
  • © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery


Association Artist Organisation
Artist John Everett Millais -


Type Position(s) Method Date(s) Notes
- - - - Red paint.


Catalogue No. Venue Date(s)
528 Royal Academy of Arts, London. 1865 - 1865
Exposition Universelle
80A Champs de Mars, Paris. 1867-04-01 - 1867-10-31
Exhibition of the Works of Sir John E. Millais, Bart, R.A.
3 Grosvenor Gallery, London. 1886 - 1886
Centennial International Exhibition
186 Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. 1888-08-01 - 1889-02-01
Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition
- City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol. 1893 - 1893
Loan Collection of Pictures
151 Guildhall Art Gallery, London. 1892-03-28 - 1892-06-30
Works by the Late Sir John Everett Millais
14 Royal Academy of Arts, London. 1898 - 1898
91 Tate Britain, London. 2007-09-26 - 2008-01-13
91 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 2008-02-15 - 2008-05-18
91 Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka 2008-06-07 - 2008-08-17
91 Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo 2008-08-30 - 2008-10-26


Author(s) Date(s) Publisher Pages
Pictures, Drawings and Sculpture Forming the Collection of Sir John Pender, G. C. M. G., M. P.
Sir John Pender 1894 London. cat. no. 77 / pp. 45-46.
Catalogue of the Very Valuable Collection of High-Class Modern Pictures and Water-Colour Drawings Formed by the Well-Known Amateur, the Late Sir John Pender
1897 Christie, Manson & Woods, London. cat. no. 55.
City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham: Catalogue of Paintings
1960 City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham p. 101.
The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais
John Guille Millais 1899; 1900 Methuen, London. vol. 1, pp. 360, 384, 395; vol. 2, pp. 33, 472, 487.
Alison Smith, Heather Birchall, Jason Rosenfeld 2007 Tate Publishing, London cat. no. 91 / p. 152.


Sir John Pender, sold Christie's, 29 May 1897 (550); E. M. Denny, sold Christie's, 8 May 1925 (146); purchased by Public Picture Gallery Fund for £105 for Birmingham, 1925.

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