William Holman Hunt
Holman Hunt exhibited an early aptitude for art, which his father, a warehouse manager, initially opposed but later tolerated. Between 1839 and 1843 he practiced drawing and studied with the portrait painter Henry Rogers while sustaining himself as an office clerk. Hunt met John Everett Millais (1829-1896) the same year that he entered the Royal Academy Schools, 1844. A decisive conversion in his attitude toward art came with the reading of John Ruskin's Modern Painters in 1847, immediately after which he embarked on a new style of conscientious naturalism in The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro During the Drunkenness Attending the Revelry (Guildhall, London), a picture inspired by John Keats's The Eve of St. Agnes. Hunt, Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), who were sharing studios, organized the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Rienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice for the Death of His Younger Brother (private collection), Hunt's only picture to be shown publicly with the inscription "P.R.B." was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following summer. With its landscape painted directly from nature, its stylistic allusions to Quattrocento painting, and its medieval subject, Rienzi epitomized the Brotherhood's objectives of reinstating the moral and descriptive honesty of earlier Italian and Flemish painting. The brilliant coloring and crisp light of plein-air painting and an increasing deployment of symbolic details characterize Hunt's other early masterworks, A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids (1850, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus (1851, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), and the abstrusely moralizing Hireling Shepherd (1851, Manchester City Art Galleries). In 1854, after having finished what would ultimately be his most popular image, The Light of the World (Kebble College, Oxford), Hunt voyaged to the Holy Land where he spent two years traveling from Cairo to Beirut. His intent was to paint religious subjects with archaeological precision. The typology of The Scapegoat (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), much of which was painted on-site near the Dead Sea, proved too unintelligible for the general public when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1856, but it remains a work of poignant genius. Subsequent trips to the Holy Land in 1869-72 and 1875-78 resulted in two of his finest late works, The Shadow of Death (1870-73, Manchester City Art Gallery) and The Triumph of the Innocents (1876-87, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Much of Hunt's final years were devoted to writing, especially after his eyesight began to fail in the 1890s, although he managed to finish in 1905, after nearly two decades of labor, his last great picture, The Lady of Shalott (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford).