English painter Robert Edward Hughes is considered a Pre-Raphaelite although he had a flair for symbolism. Meticulous in detail, his watercolor landscapes displayed Pre-Raphaelite techniques that showcased literary themes including nude female subjects with long tresses, a trait which leaned towards symbolism.
Robert Edward Hughes was born in 1851, in Clerkenwell, London, the only son of Edward Hughes and Harriet Foord. He was also the nephew of the great Pre-Raphaelite Arthur Hughes, who mentored the young artist until he became a student of the Royal Academy. In 1872, some of his works were exhibited at the Royal Academy. It was there that he met Edward Burne-Jones, whose work he had admired for some time. Their friendship and association influenced him to display a more Symbolist style. He became engaged to the daughter of famous poet and novelist, George MacDonald. Unfortunately, before their vows could be exchanged, his fiancé passed away suddenly. Thereafter, he was supported by her family and gave up exhibiting for many years.
In 1883, Robert Edward Hughes married Emily Eliza Davies and began to concentrate on portraiture. Over the next decade, his works were displayed at the Royal Academy, Royal Watercolor Society, British Institution, and the Grosvenor Gallery. He was given the honor of becoming an Associate of the Royal Watercolor Society in 1891, and was voted into the position of Vice President from 1901-1903.
Always meticulous in his portrayal of nudes, Hughes became somewhat of an expert and achieved international recognition at the Venice Biennale (1895) for ‘Biancabella and Samaritana’. One of his most famous nudes is titled ‘Weary Moon’ (c1900).
Robert Edward Hughes delved into literature and poetry and transformed enchanting text into magnificent illustrations and paintings such as ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1906); whose laborious undertaking took years to complete. As the artist’s sight began to fail, he needed the help of an astute assistant to capture his vision. This portrayal of a tragic love, derived from the poet Tennyson, features a woman imprisoned in a tower, cursed to never find love. She escapes her prison to find Sir Lancelot, but dies before reaching Camelot. ‘Midsummer Eve’ (1908) is yet another literary painting that continues to be one of the most popular paintings ever created by this artist.
In 1913, Robert Edward Hughes moved from London to St Albans, and died of complications during a surgical procedure in1917.