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William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt, by Sir William Blake Richmond, 1900 -NPG 2803 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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William Holman Hunt

by Sir William Blake Richmond
Oil on canvas, backed with plywood panel, 1900
25 7/8 in. x 21 3/8 in. (658 mm x 543 mm)
NPG 2803

Inscriptionback to top

On back panel, fragments of a large label with many printed names (mostly lost), including ‘Holmes Mr … C.V.O. F.S.A’ and ‘Hooker … G.C.S.I. F.R.S’.

This portraitback to top

This is the second of two oil portraits of Hunt by William Blake Richmond (see NPG 1901 for the earlier work). On 2 April 1897 the sitter had celebrated his seventieth birthday at a dinner party attended by several old friends, including Richmond, Edward Burne-Jones and Arthur Hughes, and it may be that the idea of a commemorative portrait was first suggested then or soon after. Three years later a large group of admirers commissioned this portrait, marking the occasion with the following address:

To Mr Holman Hunt, – For 50 years lovers of English art have been deeply interested in your work. The part which you took long ago in one of the greatest movements [1] which ever affected the artists of this country is not, and cannot be, forgotten. Since that time you have laboured in the service of your art with unremitting energy and fidelity to your ideal, encountering and overcoming difficulties and prejudices and manifesting in your life a noble simplicity of character and a warmth of heart which endeared you to many, and a quiet enthusiasm which years have not abated. Never aiming at success by means unworthy of yourself, original and independent, you have been enabled to do justice to your great powers, and your work will, we believe, be treasured by future generations of your countrymen. Most of your old comrades have left us before the century, of which you have been an ornament, has closed. In their names, and in our own, we desire to express respect and affection and every good wish for your future.
We propose, if you will kindly consent, to present you with a portrait of yourself, to be painted by your friend Sir W.B. Richmond. [2]

The statement was dated 2 April 1900 and signed by 94 individuals – presumably subscribers – drawn from the arts, politics, religion, law and philanthropy; those listed in the press are:
Sir William Agnew; Prof. George Aitchison RA ; H.H. Armstead RA; Sir Edwin Arnold; Rev. Samuel and Mrs Henrietta Barnett; J.M. Barrie; Rev. Benham; Robert Benson; Charles Booth; Rev. Stopford Brooke; Sir Lauder Brunton; Sir J. Burdon-Sanderson; the Master of Trinity; Earl of Carlisle; J.R. Clayton; Edward and Mrs Clifford; Edward Clodd; Edwin and Mrs Coates; Mrs J. Waley-Cohen; Sidney Colvin; Leonard Courtney and Mrs Courtney; W.L. Courtney; G. Lillie Craik; Walter Crane; G. Lowes Dickinson; Austin Dobson; Gen. Sir John Foster MP; George Frampton ARA; Sir Alfred Garrod; T. Anstey Guthrie; Frederic Harrison; Anthony Hope Hawkins; Hubert von Herkomer RA; Maurice Hewlett; Arthur Hughes; Edward R. Hughes; Prof. Jack; T.G. Jackson RA; the Dean of Durham; W.E.H. Lecky MP; Sir Norman Lockyer; the Bishop of London; Sir Godfrey Lushington; Judge Lushington; Norman MacColl; Mr and Mrs J. Macdonell; G.A. Macmillan; Sir Theodore Martin; J.T. Middlemore; F.D. Mocatta; Sir Colin Scott Moncrieff; Sydney Morse; Henry Newbolt; Dr. D. Oliver; H. Orrinsmith; Gilbert Parker MP; Sir Hubert Parry; Sir Noel Paton, RSA; Prof. Flinders Petrie; J. Hungerford Pollen; Sir E.J. Poynter PRA; Sir Cuthbert Quilter MP; Sir G. Reid, PRSA; Lord Justice Rigby; Mr and Mrs Richmond Ritchie; Lord Ripon; J. Forbes-Robertson; Briton Riviere RA; J.S. Sargent RA; Prof. Sayce; R. Norman Shaw RA; Sir John Stainer; Leslie Stephen; Principal Story; Sir L. Alma-Tadema RA; Sir George Trevelyan; the President of Magdalene; Mr G.F. Watts RA and Mrs Watts; Archdeacon Wilson; W. Aldis Wright; George Wyndham MP. [3]

The portrait was duly completed and presented to the sitter on 3 November 1900. By this date, Hunt was afflicted with severe glaucoma that had effectively ended his artistic career. ‘So unworldly and strange Holman Hunt did look,’ commented Burne-Jones in 1897. ‘Such a queer far off oaten colour he was all over him – his face, his flesh and his hair and everything…’ [4]

In 1906 Richmond contributed a prefatory note to Hunt’s retrospective exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, in which he wrote, ‘wholly his own, Holman Hunt’s Art is unlike that of any other painter. His strength of character shewn[sic] early and justified makes everything that comes from his hand interesting.’ [5] Around this time, artist and sitter agreed to a ‘friendly compact’ to leave both portraits to the National Portrait Gallery. Hunt’s will states, ‘I bequeath to the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery London after the death of the said Marion Edith Holman Hunt the Portrait of me in oils by Sir William Blake Richmond KCB.’[6] On Hunt’s death, Richmond wrote, ‘My dear old friend worked truly, constantly too, for his ideal, which, liked or not, was never ignoble, never impure or sordid. Take his work all in all it is sincere, and some of it is quite splendid.’ [7]

In the opinion of Alfred Gissing, the portrait represents ‘the very type and ideal of magnificent old age; and in looking upon that thoughtful face one cannot help but feel that here sits a man in whom indeed is no guile, whom the ignoble has never soiled, and who is facing life to the very end with that passion for truth which has been his constant guide through all the varying degrees of fortune and misfortune incidental to a long and active career.’[8] According to Simon Reynolds, this was ‘Richmond’s masterpiece for 1900’, depicting ‘a wise and gentle old man with a biblical beard. It was considered by the donors to be a magnificent likeness.’ [9]

At some date, probably before its acquisition, the canvas was backed with a plywood panel.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) The Pre-Raphaelite movement.
2) The Times, 5 Nov. 1900, p.10. For the earlier friendship between artist and sitter, see NPG 1901.
3) The names of Sir Charles Holmes and Sir Joseph Hooker recorded on the fragmentary label on the back panel do not appear on the portrait’s subscription list, which suggests that the label refers to an exhibition committee. If so, this was perhaps for the memorial exhibition of 1906–7, although labels on NPG 1901 indicate that it was the portrait shown there. Hooker died in 1911.
4) Lago 1982, p.140.
5) An Exhibition of the Collected Works of W. Holman Hunt, O.M., D.C.L., Leicester G., London, 1906, p.10.
6) Clause 8, William Holman Hunt will, 21 Dec. 1906, confirmed 25 Oct. 1910, National Archives. Our thanks to Dr Judith Bronkhurst for this information.
7) Quoted Stirling 1926, p.408.
8) Gissing 1936, pp.232–3.
9) Reynolds 1995, p.281.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length, full-face, grey eyes, grey hair, grey beard, seated with fingers clasped, wearing eastern robes.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 2005.

Provenanceback to top

Presented to the sitter by subscription; and bequeathed by him after the death of his widow Edith (1931) when offered to NPG by sitter’s daughter (Gladys Joseph) and son; offered again 1936, when accepted.

Exhibitionsback to top

Possibly The Collected Works of W. Holman Hunt, O.M., D.C.L., Leicester Galleries, London, Manchester City Art Gallery, Walker Gallery, Liverpool and Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, 1906–7 (37).

Reproductionsback to top

Hunt 1905, vol.2, facing p.470 (photogravure by Swan Electric Engraving Co.).

The Collected Works of W. Holman Hunt Leicester Galleries, London, 1906, frontispiece.

The Sphere, 10 September 1910, p.1 (engr.).

The Connoisseur, 1948, p.103.

Amor 1989, pl.40.

Reynolds 1995, fig.102, p.282.

Art Bulletin, March 2002, p.109.

View all known portraits for William Holman Hunt

View all known portraits for Sir William Blake Richmond