The Eve of St. Agnes

William Holman Hunt, 1847 - 1857

WAG 1635

About this object

This painting is an oil sketch for Holman Hunt's large painting of the 'Eve of St Agnes', completed in 1848, which now hangs in the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. Hunt didn't finish this version until 1857, ten years after it was begun.

Both paintings were inspired by John Keat's poem of the same name. The poem was based upon the ancient belief that if a young woman prayed to St Agnes on the eve of her feast, then she would see in her sleep the face of the man she was destined to marry. Madeleine and Porphyro, two lovers who have been kept from each other's arms by the jealous rivalry between their two families, are the principal figures of the poem and the painting. On St Agnes Eve, Porphyro gained access to Madeleine's bedroom, pretending at first to be a vision. After revealing his true identity he persuaded her to leave her father's house and marry him.

Hunt's painting illustrates the penultimate verse of the poem, in which the two lovers are described as escaping. The following lines from Keats's poem were included in the catalogue of the 1848 Royal Academy Exhibition when the larger version was first shown:

'They glide, like phantoms into the wide hall;
Like phantoms, to the iron porch they glide;
Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side:
The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns;
By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:-
The chains lie silent on the footworn stones
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.'

Nobody else is awake in the poem, rather 'In all the house was heard no human sound'. However, Hunt has increased the tension of the moment of escape by adding feasting guests of Madeleine's father to the scene. These debauched partygoers are significantly placed on the left hand side (traditionally the side associated with evil), in contrast to the goodness and piety of the couple escaping through a door on the right (traditionally the side of righteousness).

Unlike the larger painting this smaller version uses more lurid pigment, especially in the clothing of the main characters. Hunt finished the picture after his first visit to the Holy Land, during which his colour had become markedly brighter. Further details about Holman Hunt and his travels to the Holy Land are available in our online featured artist pages.

Object specifics

  • Other title(s)
    The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro During the Drunkenness Attending the Revelry (The Eve of St. Agnes)
  • Artist(s)
    William Holman Hunt (British: English, born:02 April 1827, died:07 September 1910)
  • Date
    1847 - 1857
  • Materials
    Oil; Mahogony Panel
  • Measurements
    canvas/support 25.3 cm x 35.5 cm
  • Physical description
    An interior setting where two lovers are leaving the scene of a drunken party which can be seen in the top left hand corner. In the foreground lies a drunken page clasping a vessel. He is lying on his back with his legs crossed. To the right on the floor lies a flagon, the contents of which are spilling out. To the left of the page are two bloodhounds, one standing, one lying next to the page. In front of four carved arches is a male, asleep in a carved arm chair.
  • Related people
    Branch and Leete (Previous owner); William Holman Hunt (Artist/maker); John Miller (Previous owner); Peter Miller (Previous owner); M E Miss Munn (Previous owner); R A Mrs Munn (Previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 1635
  • Credit line
    Bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery by Miss M E Munn in 1946
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 06
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • M E Miss Munn

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1948
    Disposal method: Bequethed to Walker Art Gallery
  • Branch and Leete

    Owned from: 1881-05-06
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • R A Mrs Munn

    Owned from: 1868
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1881-05-06
    Disposal method: Sold at John Miller's executor's sale, Branch and Leete, Liverpool
  • Peter Miller

    Owned from: 18611868
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1868
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • John Miller

    Owned from: 1857
    How acquired: Purchased from the artist
    Owned until: 1861
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded

Inscriptions

Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: Charles Roberson, 51 Long Acre
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  • Inscription text: W. holman hunt 1847-57
    Inscription method: (initials in monogram)
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    Inscription location: Front; Lower left
  • Inscription text: No.7 Property of John Miller Esq packed by Messrs Sanderson Liverpool
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  • Inscription text: The property of Maria Elfreda Munn Aug 24 / 07
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  • Inscription text: Charles Roberson 51 Long Acre
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  • Inscription text: ...18a Slater St. Liverpool
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  • Inscription text: The Eve of St Agnes by William Holman Hunt, this picture is inventoried in "the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" by William Holman Hunt M II 4 page 95
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Object view = Fine Art
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