William Holman Hunt 1827-1910
William Holman Hunt Galleries
Hunt's intended middle name was "Hobman", which he disliked intensely. He chose to call himself Holman when he discovered that his middle name had been misspelled this way after a clerical error at his baptism at the church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Ewell. Though his surname is "Hunt", his fame in later life led to the inclusion of his middle name as part of his surname, in the hyphenated form "Holman-Hunt", by which his children were known.
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 (best known for his work "Last Days in the Old Home") who was a moderately successful painter although he died young.
The Hireling Shepherd, 1851Hunt'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 (now in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford, with a later copy in St Paul's Cathedral), having toured the world. After travelling to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works, Hunt 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.
All these paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, their hard vivid colour and their 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 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 work, The Lady of Shalott, was completed with the help of an assistant (Edward Robert Hughes).
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 up 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 married Fanny and Edith's third sister Alice.
Hunt's autobiography Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1905) was written to correct other literature about the origins of the Brotherhood, which in his view did not adequately recognise his own contribution. Many of his late writings are attempts to control the interpretation of his work.
In 1905, he was appointed to the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. At the end of his life he lived in Sonning-on-Thames. Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1853
Oil on wood 29.2 x 21.5 cm (11 1/2 x 81/2 in)
Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery (mk63)