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Holman Hunt





I. The Painter's Youth (1827-1854) 11

II. The East 48

III. The Subject Pictures 58

IV. Portraits and Other Works 74


I. Portrait of Holman Hunt at the age of Fifteen Frontispiece
By kind permission of the painter
II. The Two Gentlemen of Verona 14
From the Birmingham Art Gallery

III. Isabella and the Pot of Basil 24
From the painting in the possession of Mrs. James Hall

IV. The Light of the World 34
From the painting in Keble College Chapel, Oxford

V. The Scapegoat 40
From the painting in possession of Sir Cuthbert Quilter,

VI. The Triumph of the Innocents 50
From the painting lent by the painter to the Walker Art
Gallery, Liverpool

VII. The Hireling Shepherd 60
From the painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

VIII. May Morning 70
By kind permission of the painter




"Art is too tedious an employment for any not infatuated with it."

"The only artists I ever knew who achieved work of note in any
sense whatever, went first through a steady training of several
years and afterwards entered their studios with as unwearying a
punctuality as business men attend their offices, worked longer
hours than these, and had fewer holidays, partly because of their
love for art, but also because of their deep sense of the utter
uselessness of grappling with the difficulties besetting the happy
issue of each contest, except at close and unflinching quarters."

"I have many times in my studio come to such a pass of humiliation
that I have felt that there was no one thing that I had thought I
could do thoroughly in which I was not altogether incapable."
W. H. H.

Upon a wintry afternoon in London, in the year 1834, a little boy of six
years old was standing on the stairs of a poor artist's house, watching,
through a window in the wall, the marvellous deeds of the man within.
The man within was painting the "Burning of the Houses of Parliament."
Scarlet and gold! Scarlet and gold! He used them up so quickly that he
had to grind and prepare more and more. Every time he ground with the
muller on the slab a fresh supply of vermilion and chrome yellow, there
was a fresh flare up of the conflagration, another outburst of applause
from the little boy. Meantime, the artist's wife put the kettle on the
fire, and cut bread and butter as if nothing out of the way were going
on; and by-and-by she and the father and their children sat down to tea.
It seemed very strange to the little watchman that they could behave in
this calm, everyday manner when such wonders were all about them in the
room. Presently a porter came from a warehouse in Dyer's Court,
Aldermanbury, where dwelt a merchant, Mr. William Hunt; and he took the
little boy home to his father.

(Painted in 1852)

The subject of this picture is taken from the last act
of Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona." It will be
remembered that Proteus and Valentine had each gone from
Verona to Milan to improve by travel and by seeing the
wonders of the world abroad. Later on Julia, whose love
Proteus had won, followed him disguised as a page, only
to discover that the false, fickle, and treacherous
wooer was endeavouring to supplant his friend Valentine
in the affections of Sylvia, the Duke's daughter. But
Valentine, interposing at the critical moment, rescued
her. This is the moment the artist depicts. The scene is
one of pure bright sunlight, in which the brilliant
colours of the gay costumes tell out with almost
startling vividness. In the background are seen
advancing the outlaws, with the Duke and Thurio whom
they have captured. It adds an interest to the picture
to know that Sylvia was painted from Miss Siddall, who
afterwards became the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The beech-tree forest scenery was painted in Lord
Amherst's park at Knowle, Kent.

The picture is in the Birmingham Art Gallery.]

This little boy had been born on the 2nd April 1827, in Wood Street,
Cheapside, and was christened William Holman at St. Giles's, Cripplegate.
From the time that he could hold anything he held a pencil. When he
was about four years old he begged for a brush and some paints, and his
joy is thus described:

"How I idolised the implements when they were in my possession! The
camel-hair pencil, with its translucent quill, rosy-coloured silk
binding up its delicate hair at the base, all embedded together as in
amber, was an equal joy with the gem-like cakes of paint. I carried
them about with me in untiring love. A day or two of this joy had not
exhausted it, when, alas, alas, the brush was lost! Search proved to
be all in vain. I remember going around and over every track about the
house and garden. Waking up from sorrowing sleep, in which my
continuing pain had been finally relieved by a dream of the lost
treasure lying ensconced in some quiet corner, I hurried to the spot,
only to find it vacant. The loss was the greater trouble because it
was my first terrible secret. That my father should ever forgive me
for losing so beautiful an object was to my distracted mind
impossible. What could be done? My hair was straight, fine, and of
camel brush hue. I cut off pieces to test its fitness for the office
of paint-brush, and as I held a little lock I found that it would
spread the tints fairly well; but what to do for a handle? Quill pens
were too big, and I could not see how they could be neatly shortened.
A piece of firewood carefully cut promised to make a more manageable
stick. With my utmost skill I shaped this, and with a little length of
coloured cotton I bound a stubborn sprout of hair upon the splint. I
was disconcerted to find that it formed a hollow tube. It seemed
perverse of fate to ordain that just in the handle where it was needed
to be hollow it should be solid, and that the hair which should be
solid would form an empty pipe. Attempts to drill the stick into a
tube failed, but there was an expedient for making the tuft fuller.
Cutting a cross cleft in the bottom of the wood, I inserted a straight
length of hair, which I then rebound with its crimson thread. With gum
I managed patiently to bind down loose ends and to give an improving
gloss to the whole. My fears grew apace, since every hour there was a
danger of inquiry for the lost pencil. I summoned up, therefore, an
assumption of assurance, trusting that my father would see no
difference between my brush and his. I went forward to him, holding
the trophy very tenderly lest it should fall to pieces. He turned his
eyes, they became bewildered, his usual loving look made a frown from
him the more to be dreaded. I fortified my spirit, saying, 'Thank you
very much, father, for your brush.' He took it with, 'What's this?'
and turned it over. Breathless I sobbed; he burst out laughing, and so
brought a torrent of tears to my eyes. He exclaimed, 'Oh, I see, it's
my brush, is it?' caught me up and tossed me aloft several times,
ending with a scrubbing on my cheek from his close-shaven chin. This
was the reception of my first work of art."[1]

[1] "Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood," vol. i.,
by W. Holman Hunt.

The warehouse was a mysterious place full of laughter and talk by day;
empty, silent, and vast at night when the master went over it with a
bull's-eye lantern. A funny man called Henry Pinchers busied himself
with velvet binding on the third floor. The jests of Henry Pinchers were
of infinite charm. He had had to take two steps back for every step
forward, he declared, one cold morning. "Then how did you get to the
warehouse at all?" asked his delighted auditor. "Don't you see, you
silly boy, I turned round and walked backwards!" said Henry Pinchers.

Other people were not much more clear than he in their answers to
questions. Temple Bar was so called "because there was no other name";
and the martyrs were burnt at Smithfield "because they were martyrs."
Whether the child found more satisfaction at the school to which, soon
after, he was sent, does not appear. The lessons from the New Testament
read to him there made a deep impression upon his mind, and were
remembered in years to come. "The gain in thoughtfully-spent life is the
continual disturbance of absolute convictions." But there are certain
convictions of childhood which are never effaced.

The choice of a profession was not left to the last moment in those
days. He was but twelve when his father asked him what he would like to
be. "A painter!" he said at once; and the sorrowful silence that
followed told him what he knew already - that his choice was not looked
on with approval.

His father had taken him away from school, and was about to find for
him a situation in which he would have to go about with invoices for
goods from nine in the morning till eight at night. No time for
drawing; no time for painting in scarlet and gold! The idea did not
harmonise with his presentiment of that which had to be. He set
about to look for a place for himself, and explained the various
qualifications that he possessed in the way of reading, writing, and
arithmetic, to the master of a boy-friend who was leaving that
gentleman's office. After some friendly chaff as to why he had not
thought of enlisting as a Grenadier, to which he replied in all good
faith, "I really should like your place better," his services were
accepted, and his father - amused, and gratified, no doubt, by the
master's ready interest in the boy - consented that he should stay.

The master, Mr. James, drew and painted himself. Far from discouraging
his apprentice, he gave him his own box of oil-colours with directions
how to prepare them; draughtsmanship was studied at a night school for
mechanics, and the little salary expended on weekly lessons from a
portrait-painter who had learnt from a pupil of a pupil of Sir Joshua
Reynolds. His father, who had permitted this, was displeased, however,
to find that on Mr. James's retirement he had time to visit the National
Gallery; and once again, to avoid more unendurable subjection, he
secured a place at the London Agency of Richard Cobden's Manchester
business. Here he sat by himself in a little room that looked out on
three blank walls, made entries in a ledger, pondered over the Bible
stories heard at school, and the far-away land where they happened, drew
pen-and-ink flies on the window with such accurate realism that his
employer took out a handkerchief to brush them away, designed patterns
for calicoes - taught by an occasional clerk. Here, too, he painted the
portrait of an old orange-woman called Hannah, a Jewess, who came into
the office and asked him to buy of her; "if only for a handsel to break
her ill-luck of the morning."

The portrait was such a good likeness that the employer laughed aloud
when he saw it; the fame of the thing spread fast. One night his father
told him of this remarkable picture, adding that he certainly ought to
see it; but no sooner had he discovered the artist than he threatened
to take him away altogether if stricter discipline were not observed.
Hunt was now sixteen; he had borne with the city for four years; if he
waited until he came of age it would be too late to think of art as a
profession. He took his life into his own hands, and declared that he
meant to become a student at the Royal Academy, that he must be allowed
to draw at the British Museum that he might qualify himself to pass the
entrance examination.

He just contrived to make both ends meet by copy and portrait work three
days out of the six. He learnt more from fellow-students than from
masters. The first real instruction came from a pupil of Wilkie's, who
told him, as he sat copying "The Blind Fiddler," that Wilkie painted
without dead colour underneath, and finished each bit in turn like a
fresco-painter. After this he found out for himself that quattrocentist
work was very beautiful, and that the beauty of it was due to the early
training of the artists in fresco. He was by nature hasty and impatient,
and the city portrait-painter had encouraged rather than checked a
tendency to handle his tools with loose bravura. He set himself to
unlearn these lessons, to work with accurate and humble patience.

The hardest part of the endeavour had yet to come. Twice over he failed
to find his name upon the list of those accepted as probationers for the
Academy. Another precious year gone! His father appealed to him to give
it up. "You are wasting time and energy. You can paint well enough to
make friends admire you; but you cannot compete with others, who have
genius to begin with, who have received an excellent education. Are you
not yourself convinced?" The sense of discouragement was bitter. Six
months more he asked for one other trial; if, for the third time, he
failed, he would go back to business.

One day, as he stood at work in the Museum, a boy dressed in a velvet
tunic, and belt, his bright brown hair curling over a turned-down
white collar, darted aside as he went by, gazed attentively at the
drawing for a minute or two, and was off again. He knew the boy, for he
had seen him take the Gold Medal at the Academy over the head of all
the older students. He returned the visit on his way through the Elgin
room, where young Millais was at work on the Ulysses. Quickly the
younger artist turned round.

"I say, are not you the fellow doing that good drawing in No. XIII.
room? You ought to be at the Academy."

"That is exactly my opinion. But, unfortunately, the Council have
twice decided the other way."

"You just send the drawing you are doing now, and you'll be in like a
shot. You take my word for it; I ought to know; I've been there as a
student, you know, five years. I got the first medal last year in the
antique, and it's not the first given me, I can tell you.... I say,
tell me whether you have begun to paint? What? I'm never to tell; it
is your deadly secret. Ah! ah! ah! that's a good joke! You'll be drawn
and quartered without even being respectably hung by the Council of
'Forty' if you are known to have painted before completing your full
course in the antique. Why, I'm as bad as you, for I've painted a long
while. I say, do you ever sell what you do? So do I. I've often got
ten pounds, and even double. Do you paint portraits?"

"Yes," I said; "but I'm terribly behind you."

"How old are you?" he asked.

"Well, I'm seventeen," I replied.

"I'm only fifteen just struck; but don't you be afraid. Why, there
are students of the Academy just fifty and more. There's old
Pickering; he once got a picture into the Exhibition, and he quite
counts upon making a sensation when he has finished his course; but
he is very reluctant to force on his genius. Will you be here

"No," I whispered; "it's my portrait day, but don't betray me.

"Don't you be down in the mouth," he laughed out, as I walked away
more light-hearted than I had been for months.[2]

[2] "Pre-Raphaelitism," vol. i. p. 56.


When Isabella found her murdered lover's grave in the
forest she brought home his head in anxious secrecy.

"Then in a silken scarf - sweet with the dews
Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
Through the cold serpent pipe refreshfully, -
She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose
A garden pot, wherein she laid it by,
And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set
Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.

And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
And she forgot the blue above the trees,
And she forgot the dells where waters run,
And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
She had no knowledge when the day was done,
And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
Hung over her sweet Basil evermore
And moisten'd it with tears unto the core."

The picture is lent by Mrs. James Hall to the Laing Art
Gallery, Newcastle-on-Tyne.]

At the next examination Hunt passed. "I told you so. I knew you'd soon
be in," said Millais, when next they met at the Academy. It was the
beginning of one of those rare friendships that make high things

In the room at 83 Gower Street, where Millais painted while his mother
sat at her work-table, Holman Hunt was now often to be found.

"They both help me, I can tell you," said Millais, as he stood with
one hand on his father's shoulder, and the other on Mrs. Millais'
chair. "He's really capital, and does a lot of useful things. Look
what a good head he has. I have painted several of the old doctors
from him. By making a little alteration in each, and putting on
different kinds of beards; he does splendidly. Couldn't be better,
could he? And he sits for hands and draperies too. And as for mamma,
she reads to me and finds me subjects. She gets me all I want in the
way of dresses and makes them up for me, and searches out difficult
questions for me at the British Museum - in the library, you know.
She's very clever, I can tell you." He stooped down and rubbed his
curly head against her forehead, and then patted the "old daddy," as
he called him, on the back. The father was then only about

[3] "Pre-Raphaelitism," vol. i. p. 61.

Many and eager were the discussions that took place among the students.
Hunt's first visit to the National Gallery, while he was still at the
office, had not been altogether a success. The Age of Brown was
flourishing. "Bacchus and Ariadne" was brown then. In fact when, some
few years later, it was cleaned, and the original colours appeared, many
people said they preferred it brown. Lost in the brown air, and quite
unable to derive any pleasure from "Venus attired by the Graces," the
new-comer, standing in front of Titian's masterpiece, inquired where
were "the really grand paintings of the great master's?"

"That picture before you, sir, of 'Bacchus and Ariadne' is one of the
finest specimens existing of the greatest colourist in the world."
Here the custodian stopped to understand my paralysed expression.
"Can't you see its beauty, sir?" "Not much, I must confess," I slowly
stammered; "it is as brown as my grandmother's painted tea-tray." He
stared hopelessly and then left me, only adding as a parting shot, "In
the other rooms there are some wonderful Rubens, a consummate Guido,
and miraculous heads by Vandyke, and several supremely fine
Rembrandts; they will at least equal your grandmother's tea-tray;
perhaps you'll be able to see some beauty in _them_."[4]

[4] "Pre-Raphaelitism," vol. i. p. 19.

It took wonderful courage in those days to go on thinking that grass and
trees were green, when all the eminent teachers maintained that so far
as Art was concerned, they were brown, and that if you only painted them
brown for several years "an eye for Nature" would come. They were green,
however, at Ewell in Surrey, whither the young artist went one autumn.
While he was there, his first picture, "Woodstock," was sold for £20.
Furthermore, a fellow-student borrowed from Cardinal Wiseman vol. i. of
"Modern Painters," and lent it to him for twenty-four hours. He sat up
most of the night to read it.

He had fished out a copy of Keats from a box marked "This lot 4d.," and
determined to paint a scene from "The Eve of St. Agnes." "It's like a
parson," said Millais, laughing - a curious commentary on the reading of
"Isabella"; but he soon came round. Millais had begun to assert his
independence of judgment, to the no small wrath of his mother.

"Johnnie is behaving abominably," she said. "I want you, Hunt, to
hear; you would not believe it; he shuts us out of the studio
altogether; he is there now all alone. For twelve days now neither his
father nor I have been allowed to enter the room. I appeal to you; is
that the way to treat parents? He cannot expect to prosper, can he,
now? I hope you will tell him so."

At this point a voice was heard from the studio. "Is not that Hunt?
Don't mind what they say. Come here."[5]

[5] "Pre-Raphaelitism," etc., vol. i. p. 80.

Some time afterwards, a wonderful conversation on the relative merits of
the Old Masters was interrupted by a quiet knock at the door.

"Who's there?" asked my companion.

"I have brought you the tea myself," said the mother.

I was hurrying forward when Millais stopped me with his hand, and a
silent shake of the head.

"I really can't let you in, mamma; please put the tray down at the
door, and I'll take it in myself."

The mother made one more attempt; in vain. On went the talk. When Hunt
had risen to say Good-bye,

"Oh no!" said Millais, "you must come in and see the old people,"
which brought to my mind the prospect of a terrible quarter of an

Johnnie burst into the sitting-room, I came very bashfully behind.
"Now, we've come to have a nice time with you, mamma and papa."

"We don't wish," said the mother, "to tax your precious time at all;
we have our own occupations to divert us and engage our attention,"
and the crochet needles were more intently plied.

"Hoity-toity, what's all this? Put down your worsted work at once.
I'm going to play backgammon with you directly;" and he straightway
fetched the board from its corner, and laid it on the table before

"You know, Hunt, how shamefully he has been behaving, and I appeal to
you to say whether it is not barefacedness to come in and treat us as
though nothing had occurred," appealed the mother.

The _us_ was chosen because at the time Johnnie had gone to his father
with the guitar, placing it in his hand and remarking, as he put his
arms round the paternal shoulders: "Now, as we are too busy in the day
to see one another, it's more jolly that we should do so after work,
so just you be a dear old papa, and now prove to Hunt what a splendid
musician you are. Hunt used to practise the violin once, but his
family didn't like it, and he could not be annoying them in music and
painting, too, so he gave up his fiddling; but he's very fond of
music. You play that exquisite air out of Rigoletto!" And then
turning to me he added, "There's no one in England has such an erect
back as he has;" while to him he railingly said, "You want pressing,
like a shy young lady."

His father was, however, already tuning the strings, when his son
went over to the still irreconcilable mother, took her needles away,
kissed her, and wheeled her in the chair round to the table where the
opened chess-board was arranged awaiting her. The father had already
commenced the air, which at my solicitation he repeated, and
afterwards played "The Harmonious Blacksmith." The radiant faces of
both parents gradually witnessed to their content; while the son beat
time to the music, he paid no less attention to the game with the

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