William Holman Hunt

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William Holman Hunt
William Holman Hunt - Selfportrait.jpg
Self-portrait, 1867, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Born (1827-04-02)2 April 1827
Cheapside, London
Died 7 September 1910(1910-09-07) (aged 83)
Kensington, London
Nationality English
Occupation painter
Signature Holman Hunt signature.jpg

William Holman Hunt OM (2 April 1827 – 7 September 1910) was an English painter, and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Biography[edit]

William Holman Hunt changed his middle name from "Hobman" to Holman when he discovered that a clerk had misspelled the name after his baptism at the church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Ewell.[1] After eventually entering the Royal Academy art schools, having initially been rejected, Hunt rebelled against the influence of its founder Sir Joshua Reynolds. He formed the Pre-Raphaelite movement in 1848, after meeting the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Along with John Everett Millais they sought to revitalise art by emphasising the detailed observation of the natural world in a spirit of quasi-religious devotion to truth. This religious approach was influenced by the spiritual qualities of medieval art, in opposition to the alleged rationalism of the Renaissance embodied by Raphael. He had many pupils including Robert Braithwaite Martineau.

Our English Coasts, 1852 ( or "Strayed Sheep")

Hunt married twice. After a failed engagement to his model Annie Miller, he married Fanny Waugh, who later modelled for the figure of Isabella. When she died in childbirth in Italy he sculpted her tomb at Fiesole, having it brought down to the English Cemetery, beside the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. His second wife, Edith, was Fanny's sister. At this time it was illegal in Britain to marry one's deceased wife's sister, so Hunt was forced to travel abroad to marry her. This led to a serious breach with other family members, notably his former Pre-Raphaelite colleague Thomas Woolner, who had once been in love with Fanny and had married Alice, the third sister of Fanny and Edith.

Hunt in his eastern dress, photo by Julia Margaret Cameron

Hunt's works were not initially successful, and were widely attacked in the art press for their alleged clumsiness and ugliness. He achieved some early note for his intensely naturalistic scenes of modern rural and urban life, such as The Hireling Shepherd and The Awakening Conscience. However, it was with his religious paintings that he became famous, initially The Light of the World (1851–1853), now in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford; a later version (1900) toured the world and now has its home in St Paul's Cathedral.

In the mid-1850s Hunt travelled to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works, and to “use my powers to make more tangible Jesus Christ’s history and teaching”;[2] there he painted The Scapegoat, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple and The Shadow of Death, along with many landscapes of the region. Hunt also painted many works based on poems, such as Isabella and The Lady of Shalott. He eventually built his own house in Jerusalem[3]

His auction record is £1,700,000, set at Sotheby's, London on 11 February 1994, for reduced-size version his 1873 work The Shadow of Death.

Artistic style[edit]

His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid colour and elaborate symbolism. These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs. For Hunt it was the duty of the artist to reveal the correspondence between sign and fact. Out of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximise the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.[4]

He eventually had to give up painting because failing eyesight meant that he could not get the level of quality that he wanted. His last major works, The Lady of Shalott and a large version of The Light of the World were completed with the help of his assistant Edward Robert Hughes.


Literary and media references[edit]

  • Hunt's painting "The Hireling Shepherd" plays an important if enigmatic role in Brian Aldiss's "antinovel":
Report on Probability A (1968, OCLC 44986)
  • Other paintings and drawings feature in Aldiss's short story:
The Secret of Holman Hunt and the Crude Death Rate (1975).
  • Hunt's painting The Awakening Conscience is implicitly referenced in scenes in Michel Faber's novel:
The Crimson Petal and the White (2002, ISBN 0-15-100692-X)
  • Hunt's painting The Awakening Conscience is explicitly referenced in Evelyn Waugh's novel:
Brideshead Revisited (1945, OCLC 964336)
  • The version of his painting The Light of the World which hangs in St Paul's Cathedral, London, and a print of that work are both mentioned in Alan Hollinghurst's novel:
The Line of Beauty (2004, ISBN 1-58234-508-2), and in Connie Willis's novel: All Clear (2010, ISBN 978-0-553-80767-7).
  • Reproductions of Hunt's paintings are hung by the highly religious character Grandmamma in Lawrence Durrell's first novel:
Pied Piper of Lovers (1935)
May Morning on Magdalen Tower, 1890

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was depicted in two BBC period dramas. The first, The Love School, in 1975, starred Bernard Lloyd as Hunt. The second was Desperate Romantics, in which Hunt is played by Rafe Spall.[5]


List of works[edit]

Gallery[edit]

Awards and commemoration[edit]

Commemorative bench in Jerusalem donated by his wife Edith

Hunt published an autobiography in 1905.[6] Many of his late writings are attempts to control the interpretation of his work. That year, he was appointed to the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. At the end of his life he lived in Sonning-on-Thames. His personal life was the subject of Diana Holman-Hunt's book My Grandfather, his Life and Loves.[7]

See also[edit]

External video
WH Hunt - Claudio and Isabella - heads (from G Art Project).jpg
Hunt's Claudio and Isabella, Smarthistory[8]
Hunt's The Awakening Conscience, Smarthistory[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Amor, Anne Clark (1989). William Holman Hunt: the True Pre-Raphaelite. London: Constable. p. 15. ISBN 0094687706. 
  2. ^ Hunt, W.H., Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; London: Macmillan; 1905, vol. 1 p 349
  3. ^ Victorian Web
  4. ^ Judith Bronkhurst, ‘Hunt, William Holman (1827–1910)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  5. ^ BBC, BBC Drama Production presents Desperate Romantics for BBC Two
  6. ^ Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
  7. ^ British watercolours in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "Hunt's Claudio and Isabella". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Hunt's The Awakening Conscience". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Landow, George (1979). William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-02196-8. 
  • Bronkhurst, Judith (2006). William Holman Hunt : A Catalogue Raisonné. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10235-2. 
  • Lochnan, Katharine (2008). Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision. Art Gallery of Toronto. ISBN 978-1-894243-57-5. 

External links[edit]