“Art is Love.” – William Holman Hunt

2nd April 2017

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood co-founder (along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais) was born on this day in 1827, and died on the 7th September 1910.

The English painter was the only member of the Brotherhood who remained faithful to the Pre-Raphaelite aims throughout his career. As described by Art UK, “Hunt’s work was remarkable for its minute precision, its accumulation of incident, and its didactic emphases on moral or social symbolism, and he made three visits to the Middle East so he could paint biblical scenes with accurate local detail.”

If you’d like to know about the ┬áPre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, take a look at our past blogs where we take a deeper look! The three founders sought to revitalise art by detailed observations of the natural world in truthful portrayals.

In his personal life, Hunt married twice after a failed engagement to model Annie Miller. He married Fanny Waugh, the daughter of a prosperous London chemist and posed for the figure of Isabella. She died in childbirth in Italy and was buried in the English cemetery in Florence in a tomb he sculpted for her, placed next to the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her final resting place. His relationship with St Mark’s Church in Florence meant he could pay to have a inscription on the communion chalice in Fanny’s memory. The second time he married was a controversial one as he married Fanny’s sister Edith. It was illegal in England at this time to marry a deceased wife’s sister and so the pair went overseas to marry which as you can imaging caused conflict amongst family members and friends. Thomas Woolner in particular fell out with Hunt- former colleagues of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, he’d once been in love with Fanny, before marrying their third sister, Alice.

It’s surprising today when his works are in famous art galleries, that Hunt’s works were not initially successful. They were deemed ‘clumsy’ and ‘ugly’ in the art community and though at the time he was recognised for his n naturalistic scenes, it’s his religious pieces that have stood the test of time to become his legacy. Most notably, ‘The Light of the World’ (1851-1853) which now can be seen in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford and a later version (1900) which toured the world and now lives in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He even built his own house in Jerusalem.


Towards the later years of his life, he was no longer able to paint due to his failing eyesight meaning he could no longer achieve the quality he wanted. His last major works were completed with his assistant Edward Robert Hughes help- including ‘The Light of the World.’ He died on 7th September 1910 and was laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral.

We’ve been lucky enough to visit some of his famous art pieces in Birmingham Art Gallery- the attention to detail he remains famous to is even more astonishing in real life- he’s truly a master of his craft so it’s no surprise his legacy has lived on to ensure his place in the art world even today.

William Holman Hunt – ‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’

William Holman Hunt- ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti’ c.1882

Oil on Panel

Painted shortly after Rossetti’s death, it was created at an emotional time by Hun’s own account just after he lost a friend. The painting marks the days when Hunt was recalling, “memories of early days when, partly by the noisy blundering of followers we were driven to stand as though we were reckless in our challenges of the whole world.”

William Holman Hunt – ‘Self -Portrait’ 1945

A self portrait he painted of himself, aged 17 when he was a student at the Royal Academy Schools in London.

Let’s not forget our favourite…

William Holman Hunt- May Morning on Magdalen Tower, 1888

The painting centres around his feelings about preserving the customs traditional in England. It shows the riding sun on May Day from the Tower of Magdalen College, Oxford.


Which is your favourite Holman-Hunt works?