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William Holman Hunt

Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer (1827 - 1910)

William Holman Hunt (1827 - 1910) was the son of a warehouse manager. He demonstrated an early talent for painting. His father discouraged his interest in painting as a career and put him to work as a clerk in the City when he was 12. Hunt received some painting lessons and painted portraits with success, which resulted in his taking up art at the age of 16. He entered the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer. It was there that he met John Everett Millais (1829 -1896) and later Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882). He read avidly and became critical of the conventions of current art. The publication of John Ruskin’s (1819 - 1900) book 'Modern Painters' in 1847 inspired Hunt’s belief in art’s moral purpose and his interest in the careful study of nature. He aimed to bring a serious and thoughtful approach to his subject matter.

Hunt had begun exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1846. He chose religious, Shakespearian or contemporary subjects with strong moral themes, reflecting his devout Anglican beliefs. His work was characterised by its emotional intensity. With Millais, Rossetti and a small group of others, in 1848 he became a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Hunt struggled for income and recognition, but gained the £50 Liverpool Academy prize in 1851 and 1853 – he was a frequent visitor to Liverpool. Hunt exhibited 15 paintings at the Liverpool Academy between 1847 and 1864, and two at the Liverpool Institution of Fine Arts in 1863. His collectors included George Holt (1824 - 1896) and William Hesketh Lever (1851 - 1925).

Hunt exhibited with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at Russell Place in 1857 and became a member of the Hogarth Club in 1858. His later work was larger in scale and broader in technique. By the mid-1850s the Brotherhood was breaking up as the members pursued their individual interests. Hunt visited the Middle East seeking authentic settings for his religious paintings. His travels included Cairo, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Beirut, where he sketched local people and the landscape. Hunt's fascination with the Middle East distinguished him from the other Pre-Raphaelites. Especially after his travels there, his work won critical acclaim amongst private dealers rather than at the Royal Academy’s exhibitions.

Of the original members of the Brotherhood, Hunt remained closest to their founding ideals. He continued to produce religious paintings loaded with symbolism but his mature style favoured more rounded figures and vividly bright colours. Hunt remained outside the Royal Academy and showed his major works individually, exhibiting also at the Grosvenor Gallery and the Old Watercolour Society in London, as well as at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition. He became the spokesman of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood after Rossetti’s death. Hunt died 7 September 1910 and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker, Previous owner
  • Nationality
    British: English
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London: Cheapside: Wood Street, Love Lane
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Merseyside: Liverpool: Kensington, Melbury Road
  • Cause of death
    Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and respiratory and cardiac failure.
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