One of the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, John Millais became a favourite painter of the Victorian era. The title for this painting comes from one of Shakespeare’s songs in As You Like It (Act II, Sc 7): Blow Blow thou winter wind Thou art not so unkind/ As man’s ingratitude…’
Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind is from the end of Millais’s career, and is part of a number of wintry landscape scenes painted when he and his family were staying in a house near Perth in Scotland. A remarkable study in greys and white, it depicts a young mother, her shawl pulled over her head in an attempt to keep the howling wind at bay, seated on a rock in the snow feeding her child. In the distance the child’s father strides off, his hat clapped to his head. Without understanding the title, the viewer might be unsure whether has left her reluctantly in order to go on ahead and search for food and lodgings, or whether he has abandoned her. At the centre is the hapless dog, who howls skyward, divided in its loyalty to the shivering mother and the man who is deserting her.
The painting is thought to have been a direct result of a scene Millais witnessed, and marked his return to the social themes seen in his earlier career.