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Hunt, William Holman

HUNT, WILLIAM HOLMAN (1827-1910), English artist, was born in London on the 2nd of April 1827. An ancestor on his father's side bore arms against Charles I., and went over to Holland, where he fought in the Protestant cause. He returned with William III., but the family failed to recover their property. Holman Hunt's father was the manager of a city warehouse, with tastes superior to his position in life. He loved books and pictures, and encouraged his son to pursue art as an amusement, though not as a profession. At the age of twelve and a half Holman Hunt was placed in a city office, but he employed his leisure in reading, drawing and painting, and at sixteen began an independent career as an artist. ' When he was between seventeen and eighteen he entered the Royal Academy schools, where he soon made acquaintance with his lifelong friend John Everett Millais, then a boy of fifteen. In 1846 Holman Hunt sent to the Royal Academy his first picture (" Hark ! "), which was followed by " Dr Rochecliffe performing Divine Service in the Cottage of Joceline Joliffe at Woodstock," in 1847, and " The Flight of Madeline and Porphyrio " (from Keats's Eve of St Agnes) in 1848. In this year he and Millais, with the cooperation of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others, initiated the famous Pre-Raphaelite movement in art. Typical examples of the new creed were furnished in the next year's Academy by Millais's " Isabella " and Holman Hunt's " Rienzi vowing to obtain Justice for the Death of his Young Brother." This last pathetic picture, which was sold to Mr Gibbons for 105, was followed in 1850 by " A Converted British Family sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids " (bought by Mr Combe, of the Clarendon Press, Oxford, for 150), and in 1851 by " Valentine protecting Sylvia from Proteus." This scene from The Two Gentlemen of Verona was very warmly praised by Ruskin (in letters to The Times), who declared that as studies both of drapery and of every minor detail there had been nothing in art so earnest and complete since the days of Albert Dtirer. It gained a prize at Liverpool, and is reckoned as the finest of Holman Hunt's earlier works. In 1852 he exhibited " A Hireling Shepherd." " Claudio and Isabella," from Measure for Measure, and a brilliant study of the Downs near Hastings, called in the catalogue " Our English Coasts, 1852 " (since generally known as " Strayed Sheep "), were exhibited in 1853. For three of his works Holman Hunt was awarded prizes of 50 and 60 at Liverpool and Birmingham, but in 1851 he had become so discouraged by the difficulty of selling his pictures, that he had resolved to give up art and learn farming, with a view to emigration. In 1854 he achieved his first great success by the famous picture of " The Light of the World," an allegorical representation of Christ knocking at the door of the human soul. This work produced perhaps the greatest effect of any religious painting of the century. " For the first time in England," wrote William Bell Scott, " a picture became a subject of conversation and general interest from one end of the island to the other, and indeed continued so for many years." " The Awakening Conscience," exhibited at the same time, depicted a tragic moment in a life of sin, when a girl, stricken with memories of her innocent childhood, rises suddenly from the knees of her paramour. The inner meaning of both these pictures was explained by Ruskin in letters to The Times in May 1854. " The Light of the World " was purchased by Mr Combe, and was given by his wife to Keble College. In 1904 Holman Hunt completed a second " Light of the World," slightly altered from the original, the execution of which was due to his dissatisfaction with the way in which the Keble picture was shown there; and he intended the second edition of it for as wide public exhibition as possible. It was acquired by Mr Charles Booth, who arranged for the exhibition of the new " Light of the World " in all the large cities of the colonies.

In January 1854 Holman Hunt left England for Syria and Palestine with thedesire to revivify on canvas the facts of Scripture history, " surrounded by the very people and circumstances of the life in Judaea of old days." The first fruit of this idea, which may be said to have dominated the artist's life, was " The Scapegoat," a solitary outcast animal standing alone on the salt-encrusted shores of the Dead Sea, with the mountains of Edom in the distance, seen under a gorgeous effect of purple evening light. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856, together with three Eastern landscapes. His next picture (1860), one of the most elaborate and most successful of his works, was The Finding of our Saviour in the Temple." Like all his xm. 30 a important pictures, it was the work of years. Many causes contributed to the delay in its completion, including a sentence of what was tantamount to excommunication (afterwards revoked) passed on all Jews acting as models. Thousands crowded to see this picture, which was exhibited in London and in many English provincial towns. It was purchased for 5500, and is now in the Birmingham Municipal Art Gallery. Holman Hunt's next great religious picture was " The Shadow of Death " (exhibited separately in 1873), an imaginary incident in the life of our Lord, who, lifting His arms with weariness after labour in His workshop, throws a shadow on the wall as of a man crucified, which is perceived by His mother. This work was presented to Manchester by Sir William Agnew. Meanwhile there had appeared at the Royal Academy in 1861 " A Street in Cairo: The Lanternmaker's Courtship," and in 1863 " The King of Hearts," and a portrait of the Right Hon. Stephen Lushington, D.C.L. In 1866 came " Isabella and the Pot of Basil," " London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince of Wales," and " The Afterglow." In 1867 Holman Hunt sent a charming head of " A Tuscan Girl " to the Grosvenor Gallery and two pictures to the Royal Academy. These were " II dolce far niente " and a lifelike study of pigeons in rain called " The Festival of St Swithin," now in the Taylor Building, Oxford, with many others of this artist's work. After two years' absence Holman Hunt returned to Jerusalem in 1875, where he was engaged upon his great picture of " The Triumph of the Innocents," which proved to be the most serious labour of his life. The subject is an imaginary episode of the flight into Egypt, in which the Holy Family are attended by a procession of the Holy Innocents, marching along the waters of life and illuminated with unearthly light. Its execution was delayed by an extraordinary chapter of accidents. For months Holman Hunt waited in vain for the arrival of his materials, and at last he unfortunately began on an unsuitable piece of linen procured in despair at Jerusalem. Other troubles supervened, and when he arrived in England he found his picture in such a state that he was compelled to abandon it and begin again. The new version of the work, which is somewhat larger and changed in several points, was not completed till 1885. Meanwhile the old picture was relined and so skilfully treated that the artist was able to complete it satisfactorily, and there are now two pictures entitled " The Triumph of the Innocents," one in the Liverpool, the other in the Birmingham Art Gallery. The pictures exhibited between 1875 and 1885 included "The Ship," a realistic picture of the deck of a passenger ship by night (1878), and portraits of his son (1880), Sir Richard Owen (1881) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1884). All of these were exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, where they were followed by " The Bride of Bethlehem " (1885), " Amaryllis " and a portrait of his son (tracing a drawing on a window) in 1886. His most important later work is " May-Day, Magdalen Tower," a record of the service of song which has been held on the tower of Magdalen, Oxford, at sunrise on May-Day frm time immemorial. The subject had interested the artist for a great many years, and, after " The Triumph of the Innocents " was completed, he worked at it with his usual devotion, climbing up the tower for weeks together in the early morning to study the sunrise from the top. This radiant poem of the simplest and purest devotion was exhibited at the Gainsborough Gallery in Old Bond Street in i8gi. He continued to send occasional contributions to the exhibitions of the Royal Water-Colour Society, to the New Gallery and to the New English Art Club. One of the most remarkable of his later works (New Gallery, 1899) is " The Miracle of Sacred Fire in the Church of the Sepulchre, Jerusalem." By his strong and constant individuality, no less than by his peculiar methods of work, Holman Hunt holds a somewhat isolated position among artists. He remained entirely unaffected by all the various movements in the art- world after 1850. His ambition was always " to serve as high priest and expounder of the excellence of the works of the Creator." He spent too much labour on each work to complete many; but perhaps no painter of the 19th century produced so great an impression by a few pictures as the painter of " The Light of the World," " The Scapegoat," " The Finding of our Saviour in the Temple " and " The Triumph of the Innocents "; and his greatness was recognized by his inclusion in the Order of Merit. His History of Pre-Raphaelitism, a subject on which he could speak as a first authority, but not without dissent from at least one living member of the P.R.B., was published in 1905. On the 7th of September 1910 he died in London, and on September iath his remains, after cremation at Golder's Green, were buried in St Paul's Cathedral, with national honours.

See Archdeacon Farrar and Mrs Alice Meynell, " William Holman Hunt, his Life and Work" (Art Annual) (London, 1893); John Ruskin, Modern Painters; The Art of England (Lecture) [consult Gordon Crauford's Ruskin's Notes on the Pictures of Mr Holman Hunt, 1886]; Robert de la Sizeranne, La Peinture anglaise contemporaine (Paris, 1895); W. B. Scott, Autobiographical Notes; W. M. Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters; Percy H. Bate, The Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1899); Sir W. Bayliss, Five Great Painters of the Victorian Era (1902). (C. Mo.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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