James K. A. Smith summarizes well the story behind this painting (2016, 92):
'Sir Walter Raleigh, you might recall, was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s intrepid explorers. He established some of the first British colonies in what is now North Carolina. But he also twice set sail in search of the elusive El Dorado. In the painting, Millais imagines just what creates such an adventurer and explorer. His hypothesis? A good storyteller. Raleigh and a young friend sit entranced by a wizened old sailor who is pointing to an immense sea, captivating them with tales of what lies on the other side. The story, on Millais’ interpretation, gives birth to a longing that will govern and direct all of Raleigh’s life.'
As I’ve considered this inspiring work of art, two observations have jumped off the canvas and doggedly refused to leave me alone!"
To read more, please check out the Story Warren post Sir Raleigh, Storytelling, and the Sea.