British painter William Holman Hunt was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose significant contributions in art helped to restore early Renaissance ideals.
William Holman Hunt was born in Cheapside, London on April 2nd, 1827, the son of a warehouse manager. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1844, and found that he and his new friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais shared a common contempt for English contemporary art and the rules surrounding it. He began to embrace the writings of John Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters’ (1847), sharing his vision of a moral purpose for art with fellow students. Ruskin also encouraged the intricate study of nature as a means of adding an authenticity to its subjects.
Hunt and six other young artists and writers, including Rossetti and Millais, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. The group was dedicated to the religious and moral ideas of the past that honored the portrayal of nature and respected the spiritual qualities of medieval art. Hunt visited Palestine to study and capture the correct historical and natural backgrounds and lighting for his intended religious paintings.
In 1849, an exhibition of one of Hunt’s first Pre-Raphaelite works at the Royal Academy, ‘Rienzi vowing to obtain Justice’, was well received by critics and viewers alike. However, the presentation of ‘A Converted British Family Sheltering from Druids’ (1850) was not so well-received when people became suspicious, not understanding the link to the initials P.R.B. written at the bottom of the canvas.
‘The Light of the World’ (1853) abounded with allusion and symbolic references, as it depicted the figure of Jesus knocking on a door. This painting brought the artist much recognition. From 1854 to 1855, Hunt traveled to remote places such as Cairo, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Damascus and Beirut. The product of these travels included works such as ‘The Scapegoat’ (1854) and ‘The Finding of the Savior in the Temple’ (1854). He returned to England in 1856.
In December 1865, William Holman Hunt married Fanny Waugh, a woman who had served as a model for several Pre-Raphaelite compositions. In August of the following year, the couple set out for the Far East. During this time, Fanny became pregnant and died in Florence after giving birth to their son Cyril. In 1875, he married his late wife’s sister Edith traveling to Switzerland because English laws did not permit a widower to marry the sister of a deceased wife.
William Holman Hunt made his last visit to Jerusalem in 1892, where he began to experience a problem with his eyesight. His last years were spent finishing up old painting projects and working on his autobiography ‘Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’. The artist died on September 7, 1910, in Kensington. His last major work, ‘The Lady of Shalott’, was completed with the help of an assistant.