Support: Off-white laid paper
Sheet: 11.4 x 18.3 cm (4 1/2 x 7 3/16 in.)
Delia E. Holden Fund 1986.18
Catalogue raisonné: Bronkhurst D55
Contemporary viewers would have recognized the painting for which this drawing is a study as bearing a deeper meaning: the couple's risky flirtation will lead to disastrous consequences and the shepherd ignores his flock while distracted by romance.
Together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt was one of the founding members in 1848 of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young artists who rejected the heavy darkness and idealization of academic history painting, replacing it with meticulously observed, jewel-colored naturalistic detail. This is a study for the figures in the oil painting The Hireling Shepherd, Hunt’s first commercial success. The poses of the couple in the painting are remarkably close to the early study: the shepherd approaches the shepherdess upon his knees, encircling her shoulders with his arm. Devoid of extraneous detail, the study concentrates on the romantic play and erotic tension expressed by the lovers’ intertwined limbs and faces and hands that stop just short of touching.
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