William Holman Hunt
William Holman Hunt OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 (2 April 1827 – 7 September 1910) was an English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 painter, and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...



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. After eventually entering the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

 art schools, having initially been rejected, Hunt rebelled against the influence of its founder Sir Joshua Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA was an influential 18th-century English painter, specialising in portraits and promoting the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was one of the founders and first President of the Royal Academy...

. He formed the Pre-Raphaelite
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

 movement in 1848, after meeting the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...

. Along with John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais
Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, PRA was an English painter and illustrator and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.-Early life:...

 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
Medieval art
The medieval art of the Western world covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of art history in Europe, and at times the Middle East and North Africa...

, in opposition to the alleged rationalism of the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 embodied by Raphael. He had many pupils including Robert Braithwaite Martineau
Robert Braithwaite Martineau
Robert Braithwaite Martineau was an English painter.He attended Colfes school for a few years at the age of 15. He first trained as a lawyer and later entered the Royal Academy where he was awarded a silver medal. He studied under Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt and once shared a studio...


Hunt married twice. After a failed engagement to his model Annie Miller
Annie Miller
Annie Miller was an English artists' model who, among others, sat for the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Her on-off relationship with Holman Hunt has been dramatised several times.-Early life:Annie Miller was born in...

, 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
Fiesole is a town and comune of the province of Florence in the Italian region of Tuscany, on a famously scenic height above Florence, 8 km NE of that city...

, having it brought down to the English Cemetery
English Cemetery, Florence
The English Cemetery is in Piazzale Donatello, Florence, Italy.-History:In 1827 the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church purchased land outside the medieval wall and gate of Porta a' Pinti from Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany for an international and ecumenical cemetery, Russian and Greek Orthodox...

, beside the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

. His second wife, Edith, was Fanny's sister. At this time it was illegal in Britain to marry one's deceased wife's sister
Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907
The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, allowing a man, if his wife had died, to marry her sister.Previously, it was forbidden for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife...

, 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
Thomas Woolner
Thomas Woolner RA was an English sculptor and poet who was one of the founder-members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was the only sculptor among the original members....

, who had once been in love with Fanny and had married Alice, the third sister of Fanny and Edith.

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
The Hireling Shepherd
The Hireling Shepherd is a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. It represents a shepherd neglecting his flock in favour of an attractive country girl to whom he shows a death's-head hawkmoth...

and The Awakening Conscience
The Awakening Conscience
The Awakening Conscience is an oil-on-canvas painting by British artist William Holman Hunt, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which depicts a young woman rising from her position in the lap of a man and gazing transfixed out of the window of a room.Initially the painting...

. 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
Keble College, Oxford
Keble College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its main buildings are on Parks Road, opposite the University Museum and the University Parks. The college is bordered to the north by Keble Road, to the south by Museum Road, and to the west by Blackhall...

; a later version (1900) toured the world and now has its home in St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

In the mid 1850s Hunt travelled to the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

 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”; there he painted The Scapegoat
The Scapegoat (painting)
The Scapegoat is a painting by William Holman Hunt which depicts the "scapegoat" described in the Book of Leviticus. He started painting on the shore of the Dead Sea, and continued in his studio in London...

, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple is a painting by William Holman Hunt intended as an ethnographically accurate version of the subject traditionally known as "Christ Among the Doctors", an illustration of the child Jesus debating the interpretation of the scripture with learned rabbis...

and The Shadow of Death
The Shadow of Death
The Shadow of Death is a religious painting by William Holman Hunt, on which he worked from 1870 to 1873, after his second trip to the Holy Land. It depicts Jesus as a young man prior to his ministry, working as a carpenter. He is shown stretching his arms after sawing wood...

, along with many landscapes of the region. Hunt also painted many works based on poems, such as Isabella
Isabella, or the Pot of Basil
Isabella, or the Pot of Basil is a narrative poem by John Keats adapted from a story in Boccaccio's Decameron . It tells the tale of a young woman whose family intend to marry her to "some high noble and his olive trees", but who falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers' employees. When the brothers...

and The Lady of Shalott
The Lady of Shalott
"The Lady of Shalott" is a Victorian ballad by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson . Like his other early poems – "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere" and "Galahad" – the poem recasts Arthurian subject matter loosely based on medieval sources.-Overview:Tennyson wrote two versions of the poem, one...

. He eventually built his own house in Jerusalem

Artistic style

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
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 and Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

, 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.

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
Edward Robert Hughes
Edward Robert Hughes was an English painter who worked in a style influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism. Some of his best known works are Midsummer Eve and Night With Her Train of Stars. Hughes was the nephew of Arthur Hughes. He often used watercolour/gouache...


Awards and commemoration

Hunt published an autobiography in 1905 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
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
Edward VII was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910...

. At the end of his life he lived in Sonning
Sonning, occasionally called Sonning-on-Thames is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Wokingham in the English county of Berkshire, a few miles east of Reading. The village is situated on the River Thames and was described by Jerome K...

River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. His personal life was the subject of Diana Holman-Hunt
Diana Holman-Hunt
Diana Holman-Hunt was an English memoir writer and art critic.Holman-Hunt was the granddaughter of painter William Holman Hunt, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Her first marriage was to Villiers A'Court Bergne, and her second to David Cuthbert. Her son Paul Bergne was a...

's book My Grandfather, his Life and Loves.

Literary and media references

  • Hunt's painting "The Hireling Shepherd" plays an important if enigmatic role in Brian Aldiss
    Brian Aldiss
    Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE is an English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society...

    's "antinovel
    An antinovel is any experimental work of fiction that avoids the familiar conventions of the novel. The term was coined by the French philosopher and critic Jean-Paul Sartre....

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
    Michel Faber
    Michel Faber is a Dutch-born writer of fiction. He writes in English.Faber was born in The Hague, Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967...

    's novel:
The Crimson Petal and the White (2002, ISBN 015100692X)
  • Hunt's painting The Awakening Conscience is explicitly referenced in Evelyn Waugh
    Evelyn Waugh
    Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

    's novel:
Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder is a novel by English writer Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1945. Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by...

(1945, OCLC 964336)
  • The version of his painting The Light of the World which hangs in St Paul's Cathedral
    St Paul's Cathedral
    St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

    , London, and a print of that work are both mentioned in Alan Hollinghurst's novel:
The Line of Beauty
The Line of Beauty
The Line of Beauty is a 2004 Booker Prize-winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst.-Plot introduction:Set in Britain in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the post-Oxford life of the young gay protagonist, Nick Guest....

(2004, ISBN 1582345082), and in Connie Willis's novel: All Clear (2010, ISBN 9780553807677).
  • Reproductions of Hunt's paintings are hung by the highly religious character Grandmamma in Lawrence Durrell
    Lawrence Durrell
    Lawrence George Durrell was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer, though he resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan...

    's first novel:
Pied Piper of Lovers
Pied Piper of Lovers
Pied Piper of Lovers, published in 1935, is Lawrence Durrell's first novel. It is followed by Panic Spring, which partly continues the actions of its characters. The novel is in large part autobiographical and focuses on the protagonist's childhood in India and maturation in London.-Plot...


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was depicted in two BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 period drama
Costume drama
A costume drama or period drama is a period piece in which elaborate costumes, sets and properties are featured in order to capture the ambiance of a particular era.The term is usually used in the context of film and television...

s. The first, The Love School
The Love School
The Love School is a BBC television drama series originally broadcast in 1975 about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, written by John Hale, Ray Lawler, Robin Chapman and John Prebble. It was directed by Piers Haggard, John Glenister and Robert Knights. It was shown during January and February 1975...

, in 1975, starred Bernard Lloyd
Bernard Lloyd
Bernard Lloyd is a Welsh actor noted for his television roles. Perhaps his most famous role is as The Traveller, the man who tries to unravel signalman Denholm Elliot's predicament in the 1976 Ghost Story for Christmas "The Signalman"...

 as Hunt. The second was Desperate Romantics
Desperate Romantics
Desperate Romantics is a six-part television drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first broadcast on BBC Two between 21 July and 25 August 2009.-Overview:...

, in which Hunt is played by Rafe Spall
Rafe Spall
Rafe Joseph Spall is an English actor. He is best known for his roles in the Edgar Wright films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz , alongside Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. He had previously appeared alongside Pegg and Frost in a 2001 episode of Spaced...


External links

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