William Holman Hunt
1 of 28 portraits of William Holman Hunt
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
William Holman Hunt
by Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt
Pencil with some wash on paper , 1853
9 1/4 in. x 7 1/2 in. (235 mm x 189 mm)
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Inscriptionback to top
On back of former mount inscr. by Gladys Joseph [née Hunt]: ‘Drawing by John Everett Millais / of W. Holman-Hunt / before his departure for Palestine / in 1854. / Given by J.E.M in 1878 to Edith Holman-Hunt & left by her to Gladys Millais Mulock Joseph.’
Also inscr. lower right: ‘Cut all writing(?) / in frame’ plus some illegible marks.
Formerly on back of frame, accompanying label inscr. in calligraphic hand, possibly dictated by Edith Holman-Hunt: ‘W. Holman Hunt / by John Everett Millais. / drawn before WHH went / abroad in 1854, and kept / by JEM in his studio, until / 1886, when he gave it to / Edith Holman Hunt.’
This portraitback to top
The sitter and the artist John Everett Millais were close friends within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and at one time planned to travel together to Egypt and Palestine. In the event, only Hunt made the trip, leaving London in January 1854. In early December 1853, they drew simultaneous portraits of each other, that of Hunt being made at the request of their mutual friends and patrons Mr and Mrs Thomas Combe of Oxford, to whom Hunt wrote, ‘Millais has done a pencil portrait of me – which is pronounced to be very like: he declares that he must keep it, but intends to make a copy for Mrs Combe – this you must decide with him – it is totally different from all other sketches which my friends have done being unlike either a murderer, or a beer-drinking pickpocket.’  Millais’s own explanation followed: ‘I am so pleased with it that, as I have no other, I must keep it for myself, but will copy it for you and send it in the course of a week or two.’  Millais also retained the portrait of himself drawn by Hunt.  The copy executed for the Combes was not an identical image, showing Hunt wearing the same necktie but in three-quarter profile (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1854’). Both it and NPG 5834 are characteristic of Millais’s carefully observed and delicately executed draughtsmanship in this period.
Initially retained by Millais as a keepsake of early friendship, the drawing was first exhibited at the small Pre-Raphaelite exhibition held in Russell Place in summer 1857, in which Hunt also participated.  It was later presented by Millais to Hunt’s wife Edith. The Hunts’ daughter Gladys gave 1878 as the date of this gift, whereas an apparently earlier inscription gives 1886. The former was the year of Millais’s move to 2 Palace Gate, when the clearing of his previous studio may have prompted the presentation, and of the Hunts’ return to Britain following their marriage in Switzerland, when sitter and artist were in contact, while 1886 was the year of both artists’ retrospective exhibitions and Hunt’s articles on the PRB,  which could also have occasioned the gift. In 1882, in order to make an etching, Hunt borrowed back his reciprocal drawing of Millais, which was in his possession in 1896. 
From 1965 to 1985 the work was on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) Letter from W.H. Hunt to Thomas Combe, 9 Dec. 1853, Bodleian L., Oxford, publ. by Judith Bronkhurst, Sotheby’s, 10 Oct. 1985 (78). The reference to a murderer and pickpocket alludes to W.M. Rossetti’s remark that the 1853 portrait of Hunt by D.G. Rossetti (see ‘All known portraits’) ‘resembled Rush, the notorious murderer’; see Hunt 1905, vol.1, p.341.
2) Letter from J.E. Millais to Thomas Combe, 26 Dec. 1853; Millais 1899, vol.1, p.221.
3) Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, no.D76.
4) See letter from J.E. Millais to his wife, 17 May 1857: ‘I have promised to send one or two little things to submit at a private little exhibition, and the only things I have are the portraits of you and Hunt. I don’t see anything against submitting your likeness working the crimson velvet. If you have the least dislike to it only send Hunt’s pencil likeness’. Morgan L&M, New York, Millais Papers.
5) ‘Pre-Raphaelitism: A Fight for Art’, Contemporary Review, Apr., May, June 1886.
6) See Bronkhurst 2006, vol.2, D76.
Physical descriptionback to top
Head-and-shoulders, full-face, with side whiskers and slight moustache, wearing loose-knotted striped cravat.
Conservationback to top
Conserved, 1985; 1997.
Provenanceback to top
With artist until given to sitter’s wife Edith 1878 or 1886; their daughter Gladys and by descent to Mrs Elisabeth Burt; bought Sotheby’s, 10 October 1985 (78). lot 78
Exhibitionsback to top
[Exhibition of Pictures by the Pre-Raphaelite Circle], Russell Place, London, 1857.
The Pre-Raphaelites, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2009 (3).
Reproductionsback to top
Photographic reproduction on art paper by Frederick Hollyer, unknown date.
Hubbard 1944, pl.51.
Sotheby’s, 10 October 1985 (78).
Newman & Watkinson 1991, pl.53.
Marsh 2005a, p.30.
Ahlund 2009, p.151.