Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hunt, William Holman
HUNT, WILLIAM HOLMAN (1827–1910), painter, born in Wood Street, Cheapside, London, on 2 April 1827, was eldest son in a family of two sons and five daughters of William Hunt, warehouseman there, by his wife, Sarah, daughter of William Holman. He was baptised in the famous church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. His father, William Hunt, who had some taste for art and books, took his son, while a child, to call on John Varley, the water-colour painter, but young William's early artistic ambitions were not encouraged by his father. After education at private schools the boy, in his thirteenth year, had his first touch of commercial life, engaging himself as assistant to a surveyor or estate agent, and afterwards to the London agent of Richard Cobden [q. v.], calico printer and politician. Finding these employments uncongenial, he obtained the reluctant permission of his family to spend his evenings in learning something of the practice of art. In this he was assisted by one Henry Rogers, a portrait painter living in the City of London, in whom lingered some of the traditions of Reynolds. Holman Hunt's own early efforts in portraiture attracted the attention of his master. In 1843 he left his mercantile employment and began work as a student at the British Museum. He spent three days a week there, and soon devoted another two days to copying at the National Gallery. In 1844 he was received into the Academy schools as a probationer after failing in a first attempt, and was promoted to studentship the following year. Millais, two years younger than himself, was already known among Holman Hunt's fellow-students at the Museum as a precocious genius. At the Academy the two youths made each other's acquaintance, and became friends for life. With another Academy student, Dante Gabriel Rossetti [q. v.], Holman Hunt was soon on 'nodding terms,' but he did not form a close acquaintance with him till they had left the school. In 1846 Holman Hunt began to exhibit at the Academy, sending from a studio at Hackney a picture entitled 'Hark!' a little girl holding a watch to her ear. In 1847, when he had removed to 108 High Holborn, he sent to the Academy 'Dr. Rochecliffe performing Divine Service in the Cottage of Joceline Joliffe at Woodstock,' a scene from Scott's novel. At the British Institution he exhibited in the same year 'Little Nell and her Grandfather.' These paintings were followed in 1848 by the 'Flight of Madeline and Porphyro,' from Keats's 'Eve of St. Agnes' (now the property of Walton Wilson). Like Holman Hunt's former Academy picture, this performance fired the enthusiasm of Rossetti, then a pupil of Ford Madox Brown. Rossetti told the artist that the illustration of Keats was 'the best picture of the year,' and asked permission to call on him. In August Holman Hunt acceded to Rossetti's request to work under him in his studio in Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square. For the following nine years the two artists remained on intimate terms. To Holman Hunt Rossetti owed his introduction to Millais.
In the autumn of 1848 the three young men laid the foundation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a movement of wide significance which sought a new veracity in art. Ford Madox Brown [q. v. Suppl. I] was already working independently in the same direction. But Brown never joined the Brotherhood, of which Holman Hunt was at the outset the moving spirit, being ardently seconded by Millais. Rossetti was soon recruited, and suggested developments. Subsequently Thomas Woolner, W. M. Rossetti, James Collinson, and F. G. Stephens were admitted to the band. The title of the Brotherhood, and its initial-mark, P.R.B., were formally adopted in 1849. These seven men alone formed the genuine Brotherhood, although various other artists have from time to time been erroneously credited with membership. After the death of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1882, much controversy took place as to the relative responsibilities of Holman Hunt and others in initiating the movement. Rossetti, whose intimacy with Holman Hunt declined after 1857, was then represented to be its creator, while Ford Madox Brown was also put forward as the source of inspiration. Many influences were doubtless at work, but Millais alone can share with Holman Hunt the honours of parentage of the P.R.B., and Dante Rossetti's place was no more than that of first and chief disciple of these two. As Holman Hunt was the original conceiver, so was he the most faithful member of the little school, carrying on its principles without relaxation to the end of his long life.
The first thoroughly Pre-Raphaelite picture which Holman Hunt completed was 'Rienzi,' which was hung in the Academy of 1849 as a pendant to Millais' s 'Isabella.' It was not sold at the exhibition, but on its return to Holman Hunt's studio Augustus Leopold Egg, R.A. [q. v.], found a customer for it at 1051!. in a collector named Gibbons, through whom it passed to F. W. Cosens. It is now the property of Thomas Clarke. Holman Hunt was at the time threatened with distraint by his landlord, and the 105l. proved of great service.
At the end of 1849 Holman Hunt went abroad for the first time. He and Rossetti together visited Paris and afterwards Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. Holman Hunt's admiration was chiefly stirred in France by Delaroche, Flandrin, and Ingres. On returning to England he moved into new lodgings near old Chelsea church. While there he took his share in starting the Pre-Raphaelite organ 'The Germ,' the first number of which, issued on 1 Jan. 1850, opened with an etching by Holman Hunt — two subjects on a single plate, in illustration of a poem by Woolner ; a copy of the etching is at the Tate Gallery. Meanwhile Holman Hunt was working on his picture of 'Christians escaping from Druid Persecution,' which was exhibited at the Academy in 1850. For the first time the Brotherhood roused a storm of censure among the critics, including Dickens (in 'Household Words'), and Holman Hunt's contribution shared the general denunciation. No buyer was found for it at the Academy, but Millais later in the year met casually at Oxford Thomas Combe [q. v.] of the Clarendon Press, who, on Millais's suggestion, bought it for 100 guineas. Combe, who left this and other pictures by Holman Hunt to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, thenceforth proved an invaluable friend to the painter, who was frequently entertained by Combe and his wife at Oxford.
At this period Holman Hunt was greatly depressed by want of substantial recognition, and fell into debt. He contemplated giving up art for farming. An offer to (Sir) Austen Henry Layard [q. v. Suppl. I] to accompany him as draughtsman on his archaeological exploration of Nineveh arrived too late. He accepted employment, however, from William Dyce [q. v.] in copying and restoring old masters, and took Robert Braithwaite Martineau [q. v.] as a pupil. In the meantime, in 1851, he improved his position by exhibiting at the Royal Academy 'Valentine rescuing Sylvia from Proteus,' a scene from Shakespeare's 'Two Gentlemen of Verona.' The first design for the picture had been made in the previous October, when Holman Hunt, Rossetti, and F. G. Stephens were staying together at Sevenoaks painting sylvan backgrounds in Knole Park. The Sylvia was studied from Eleanor Siddal (afterwards Rossetti's wife), and the Valentine from James Lennox Hannay, subsequently a London magistrate. This notable picture was attacked by 'The Times,' but happily and unexpectedly it found a powerful defender in John Ruskin [q. v. Suppl. I], who in a letter to the newspaper compared Holman Hunt's art to that of Dürer. Thenceforth Ruskin was the chief public champion of Holman Hunt and his school (cf. his Præraphaelitism, 1851). Holman Hunt soon included Ruskin among his closest friends, and their affection for each other lasted till death. Holman Hunt's 'Valentino' was exhibited a second time in 1851 at the Liverpool Exhibition, where it won the premium of 50l. offered for the 'most approved painting.' It was bought in 1854 by (Sir) Thomas Fairbaim, who became another sympathetic patron and whoso portrait Holman Hunt painted in 1874. The 'Valentine ' was resold in 1887. In the course of 1851 Holman Hunt and Millais spent some time at Ewell, near Epsom, afterwards removing to Worcester Park Farm. Each painted backgrounds for important pictures. Holman Hunt was beginning his 'Hireling Shepherd' and 'The Light of the World,' both of which were completed slowly at his Chelsea studio. 'The Hireling Shepherd' was finished in time for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1852. Carlyle, Hunt's neighbour at Chelsea, had seen 'The Hireling Shepherd' in the studio, and had declared it to be 'the greatest picture he had seen painted by any modern man.' It was hung on the line, and ultimately passed to Manchester Art Gallery, while a replica became the property of Sir William Agnew [q. v. Suppl. II]. During that year he worked hard on three very different subjects. 'daudio and Isabella' illustrated a scene from Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure,' which after exhibition at the Academy in 1853 won a Liverpool prize of 50l. (it is now in the possession of Mrs. Ashton). 'Our English Coasts, 1852,' a study of the Downs near Hastings, was also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1853 ; it was subsequently renamed 'Strayed Sheep,' and became the property of George Lillie Craik, The third picture, 'New College Cloisters, 1852,' was shown at the Academy of 1853 ; it is at Jesus College, Oxford.
In 1854 Holman Hunt still further increased bis reputation by sending to the Academy two of his best pictures, 'The Awakened Conscience' and 'The Light of the World.' The former was bought by (Sir) Thomas Faurbaim. 'The Light of the World ' was acquired for 400 guineas by Thomas Combe, and in 1872 was presented by his widow to Keble College, Oxford. Ruskin in letters to 'The Times' wrote admiringly of the ethical and spiritual significance of both the paintings of 1854. He attributed to Holman Hunt a religions passion new to English art. In later years Holman Hunt was grieved by injury done to 'The Light of the World' owing to what he regarded as want of care at Keble College. He therefore painted the subject again on a life-size scale in 1904. The second version was purchased by Mr. Charles Booth, who arranged for its exhibition in the chief colonial cities and finally presented it to St. Paul's Cathedral, where it now hangs. Engravings and reproductions have made the original version one of the most familiar of modern pictures.
Holman Hunt's growing success enabled him in the meantime to carry out a project which had been slowly forming itself in his mind, to visit Palestine and treat sacred subjects among their actual surroundings. He resolved, he said, to find out with his own eyes what Christ was like.
Leaving England in January 1854 for two years, he travelled to Palestine by way of Paris, Malta, Egypt and Jaffa. At Cairo Thomas Seddon [q. v.] joined him. Settling down in Jerusalem, he soon began the well-known painting 'The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,' which he finished six years later. Then, encamping on the western shore of the Dead Sea, he started on 'The Scapegoat.' Much other work was designed, and he made numberless studies of Jewish types and of the natural scenery. He explored the Holy Land with thoroughness, and formed useful friendships with English and other European tourists. At the close of 1855 he travelled from Beyrout to the Crimea, by way of Constantinople. In February 1856 he was again in London. The P.R.B. was then practically in a state of dissolution as a brotherhood but remained an ever-increasing force as a body of principles.
Holman Hunt settled for a time in Pimlico (49 Claverton Street). There he worked on designs for the illustrated edition of Tennyson's Poems for which Moxon the publisher had already enhsted the services of Millais, Rossetti, Maclise, Mulready, Stanfield, and others. Hunt undertook six drawings, including 'The Lady of Shalott,' 'Haroun al Raschid,' and 'Oriana.' Long afterwards, in 1886 he happily repeated his design for 'The Lady of Shalott' in oil. The edition of Tennyson was published in May 1857. Tennyson criticised Holman Hunt's interpretation of his 'Lady of Shalott,' but the artist who met the poet at Mrs. Prinsep's residence. Little Holland House, was soon on good terms with him, visiting him at Farringford, m the Isle of Wight, in 1858, and accompanying him with Palgrave, Woolner, and Val Prinsep, on a walking tour in Devonshire and Cornwall in 1860.
Holman Hunt's 'Scapegoat' was sent to the Academy of 1856. It arrested attention but puzzled the critics. Sir Robert Peel [q. v.] offered 250l. for it; he wished to hang it as a pendant to a Landseer ! It was ultimately sold to Mr. Windus of Tottenham, a well-known collector, for 450l. It subsequently passed to Thomas Fairbaim, and in 1887 into the collection of Sir Cuthbert Quilter. At the exhibition of 1856 Holman Hunt also showed three Oriental landscapes.
At the suggestion of Combe, Holman Hunt offered himself as a candidate for the associateship of the Academy in the same year, but he was rejected, receiving only a single vote. His relations with the Academy were thenceforth strained. He sent nothing to the Academy again till 1860, and only eight pictures in the succeeding fourteen years, altogether ceasing to contribute after 1874. He took part in 1858 in the formation of the Hogarth Club, originally formed of artists who had failed to win official recognition (it lasted till 1897). In 1863 he gave evidence before a royal commission on the Academy, in which he adversely criticised its management. Millais and many artist friends soon, however, became influential members of the Academy, and they subsequently assured Hunt that he would be welcomed by that body, would he consent to join it. But he resolved to remain outside, and from that resolution he never swerved.
Late in 1856 Holman Hunt moved from Pimlico to Campden Hill, where he took a house, Tor Villa, which had just been vacated by James Clarke Hook [q. v. Suppl. II]. He occupied it for some ten years. There he busied himself for a time with the designing of furniture, helping to set a fashion which, under the subsequent influence of William Morris and others, developed into a movement scarcely less important than that of the P.R.B. His 'Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,' which he had begun in Jerusalem in 1854, was finished at Campden Hill in 1860. It fetched a price far in excess of any in Holman Hunt's previous experience. It was sold for 5500 guineas to the picture-dealer Gambart, who exhibited it at his gallery in Bond Street with great success. It passed in 1891 from the collection of C. P. Matthews into that of Mr. John T. Middlemore, M.P. for Birmingham, who presented it to the Birmingham Art Gallery in 1896. It was engraved by Lizars and Greatbach. For the nine following years Holman Hunt's position was well maintained. 'A Street Scene in Cairo : the Lantern-maker's Courtship,' exhibited at the Academy in 1861, became the property of William Kenrick of Birmingham. In 1863 two pictures were shown at the Academy, 'The King of Hearts,' portrait of a boy, now the property of the earl of Carnarvon, and a portrait of Stephen Lushington [q. v.], painted for his son Vernon.
In 1866 Holman Hunt exhibited on his own account at a gallery in Hanover Street some new pictures, including 'London Bridge on the Night of the Prince of Wales's Wedding, March 10, 1863,' into which he introduced a portrait of Combe (now in the Combe bequest, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and 'The After-glow.' Next year he showed at the Academy 'II dolce far niente' and 'The Festival of St. Swithin,' a lifelike study of pigeons (also now at the Ashmolean Museum).
In August 1866 Holman Hunt had resolved on a second visit to the East. But quarantine regulations, owing to an outbreak of cholera, prevented him from going farther than Florence, where he took a studio. He had married (for the first time) before leaving England in 1865, and his wife, who accompanied him to Florence, died there in 1866. Holman Hunt was soon at work in his Florentine studio on his 'Isabella and the Pot of Basil.' This picture, which was rendered popular by Blanchard's engraving, was purchased by Gambart, and in 1867 exhibited by itself. It ultimately became the property of Mrs. Hall of Newcastle. Hunt stayed in Italy, with an occasional visit to England, for some two years. He visited Naples, Salerno, and Ravello, and saw Venice for the first time under Ruskin's guidance. He was elected member of the Athenæum Club under Rule II in 1868.
After fourteen years' absence from Palestine, Holman Hunt landed at Jaffa in the autumn of 1869. He remained in the Holy Land for another two years. In Dec. 1869 he was staying at Bethlehem, but soon took a house at Jerusalem, and slowly painted one of his most characteristic works, 'The Shadow of Death,' also called 'The Shadow of the Cross.' He returned with it to England in 1871. Sir Thomas Fairbaim negotiated its sale to Messrs. Agnew and Son, who exhibited it separately in London and through the country ; 5500l. down was paid for it and the original study, an equal sum being promised later. Sir William Agnew finally presented the painting to the Manchester Art Gallery. The head of Christ in this picture was copied by command of Queen Victoria under the title of 'The Beloved,' and is now in the Chapel Royal. Holman Hunt now remained m London, painting a few portraits, till 1875. He then left for Neuchatel, where ho was married for the second time. Thence he passed once again to Jerusalem by his old route of Alexandria and Jaffa. He arrived in the course of 1875, and stayed in Jerusalem or the neighbourhood for two and a half years. On the voyage out through the Mediterranean he painted 'The Ship,' which remained the property of the painter till 1906, when in honour of his eighty-first birthday it was purchased by a number of admirers and presented to the Tate Gallery. 'Nazareth, overlooking Esdraelon,' and a first design for the most elaborate labour of his life, 'The Triumph of the Innocents,' were executed during this third sojourn in Jerusalem. Difficulties over 'The Triumph' caused by a bad canvas bought in Jerusalem proved a source of grave anxiety.
While Holman Hunt was still in Palestine the Grosvenor Gallery was built and opened by Sir Coutts Lindsay in 1877. Hunt encouraged the enterprise, and to the first exhibition sent his completed 'Nazareth' (now in the Ashmolean at Oxford ). He subsequently sent 'The Ship' (1878), portraits of his sons Cyril (1880) and Hilary 'The Tracer' (1886), Sir Richard Owen (1881), and Dante Rossetti (1884, worked from an earlier pastel), as well as 'The Bride of Bethlehem' (1885) and 'Amaryllis' (1885).
On returning in 1878 from the Holy Land, Holman Hunt, who still kept on his house at Jerusalem, worked anew on his 'Triumph of the Linocents' at a Chelsea studio. The first picture he temporarily abandoned, and began a new version, which was finished in 1885. After exhibition in the Fine Art Society's Galleries, this was acquired by Mr. J. T. Middlemore of Birmingham. Meanwhile Holman Hunt had repaired and repainted the earlier version, which was acquired by the Liverpool Art Gallery for 3500 guineas. The original design of the picture, which varies considerably from both the large versions, is in the collection of Sidney Morse.
A water-colour, 'Christ among the Doctors,' which now belongs to Mr. Middlemore, was executed in 1886, in which year as complete a collection of Holman Hunt's works as could be brought together was shown by the Fine Art Society in London. Holman Hunt's next important picture was 'May Morning on Magdalen Tower, Oxford,' which he began in 1888 on a small canvas, and finished in 1891, when it was shown in a private gallery in Old Bond Street. This original version was presented by Mr. and Mrs. Barrow Cad bury to the Birmingham Art Gallery in 1907.
Li 1892, accompanied by his wife, Holman Hunt travelled through Italy and Greece to Egypt, and thence paid a last visit to Palestine. There he prepared designs for Sir Edwin Arnold's 'Light of the World,' and painted 'The Miracle of Sacred Fire, Church of the Sepulchre,' which he exhibited at the New Gallery in 1899 and afterwards lent to Liverpool, but kept in his own possession.
Holman Hunt occasionally practised modelling, and some of his designs, especially 'The Triumph of the Innocents,' show that if he had taken up that branch of art, he might have succeeded better than he did in painting. He was a ready writer. In 1888 he contributed three articles on the Pre-Raphaelite movement to the 'Contemporary Review.' In 1891 he contributed to 'Chambers's Encyclopaedia' an able article on the same subject.
In 1905 he published a work in two volumes entitled ' Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,' which forms a history of his own life and throws much light on the lives of his friends. In 1905, on the death of George Frederick Watts [q. V. Suppl. II], Holman Hunt was admitted to the Order of Merit, and at the encaenia of the same year he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford. Another collection of his works was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1906, when the catalogue had a preface by Sir William B. Richmond, K.C.B., R.A. Holman Himt died at his residence, 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, on 7 Sept. 1910, and his remains, after cremation at Golder's Green, were interred in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral near the graves of Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Joshua Reynolds, J. M. W. Turner, Lord Leighton, and Sir J. E. Millais.
He was twice married: (1) in 1865 to Fanny, daughter of George Waugh, and granddaughter of Alexander Waugh [q. v.], who died at Florence in the folloing year leaving a son Cyril Benoni ; and (2) in 1875 to Marion Edith Waugh, his deceased wife's sister, by whom he had a son, Hilary Lushington, and a daughter, Gladys Mulock.
Holman Hunt painted his own portrait three times, at the age of fourteen, seventeen, and forty-one ; the last portrait is in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. He was twice painted by Sir William Richmond; for the first time in 1878, and for the second in 1900. The earlier picture belongs to Sir William Richmond; the latter was presented to Holman Hunt by his friends, with an address written by (Sir) Leslie Stephen. Both portraits are reproduced in photogravure in Hunt's 'Pre-Raphaelitism' (1905).
Holman Hunt's lifelong adherence to Pre-Raphaelite principles and his strong religious convictions give him a unique place in the history of English art. The determined realism with which he treats the scenes of New Testament history has recalled to many critics the genius of Bunyan. In Ruskin's view, the New Testament 'became' to Holman Hunt, after he quitted worldly subjects, 'what it was to an old Puritan or an old Catholic of true blood' — 'the only Reality.' Holman Hunt's minute search after what he believed to be truth did not permit him to paint many pictures. But all show the same conscientious fidelity to fact, and bright,' if not always harmonious, colouring. JEsthetic unity is too often sacrificed to excess of detail, producing occasionally the crudest effects. His genius was essentially Germanic, finding expression not in the intrinsic powers of the material in which he worked, but in the forceful detail of his representations. He ignored the virtues of concentration and subordination, and endeavoured to say as much as he could on every subject he treated. Yet few artists can claim a more distinctive individuaUty or have made a bolder stand against the artistic conventions of their own day than Holman Hunt; whether those conventions were always for the worse is a different puestion.
[Holman Hunt's Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 2 vols. 1905; William Holman Hunt and his Works (published anonymously, but by F. G. Stephens), 1860; Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters, ed. W. M. Rossetti, 1900; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his Family Letters, with a Memoir by W. M. Rossetti, 2 vols. 1895; Ruskin's Art of England (Lecture I, on Rossetti and Hunt) in his collected works, ed. Wedderburn and Cook (see the admirable index vol. for numerous references to Hunt); Millais's Life of Sir J. E. Millais; W. Bell Scott's Autobiography; Rowley, Fifty Years of Work without Wages, 1911; Graves, Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905; Catalogues of Tate Gallery and Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool Art Galleries; Cat. of Exhibition at Leicester Galleries, 1906, with preface by Sir W. B. Richmond; private information.]