William Holman Hunt

Hunt and Millais by Rossetti

William Holman Hunt was born 2 April 1827. His father managed a cotton goods warehouse in London. Hunt showed a talent for drawing from an early age. After visiting an artist’s studio in 1834 he was entranced and begged to be able to stay and watch the artist at work. He received a painting set from his father and was allowed to indulge his interest, but only up to a point. Hunt’s father made it clear that he would not let his son become an artist, he must follow his own path into the warehouse. Hunt spent any free time drawing, painting, visiting museums, and reading. Standing up to his father he announced he would be an artist and support himself.

He applied to the Royal Academy school but failed his first and second attempts at the exam. His father extracted a promise that if he failed a third time he would return to the warehouse. Luckily for Hunt he passed. Although the schools were free, Hunt had to support himself painting portraits and copy work. In the schools he became close friends with John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Frederic George Stephens. Through Rossetti he met other members of the future Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus
Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus

It was now 1848 and revolutions were sweeping across Europe. Hunt was also anxious for change. Having tired of the calibre of art exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibitions, Hunt was ready to start a new subject in a new style. Encouraged by Rossetti they gather Millais, Stephens and three other friends and fellow students to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Now they just have to await the art world’s reaction to their revolutionary art.