We have a very exciting sketch here at the gallery – attributed to William Holman Hunt. He was a founder of the first avant-garde art movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood along with John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. We believe we have a sketch for one of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings ever made – The Hireling Shepherd.
‘Truth to nature’ – that was what the Pre-Raphaelite’s wanted. So off William Holman Hunt went, to the countryside, with his friend, the young John Everett Millais.
On the one hand, this trip to Surrey brought them quite a lot of hassle. On the other hand, the trip resulted in two of the finest British paintings in the 19th Century; The Hireling Shepherd and Ophelia.
These two works brought with them fame, controversy, muses and scandal.
‘Truth to nature’ meant just that to Homan Hunt. In The Hireling Shepherd, he painted each blade of grass, each curl of sheep’s wool. But he also painted the flushed and ruddy cheeks of the local girl, and her coarse, wiry hair.
Too crude and too true to life, the picture was publicly mocked and ridiculed. To make it worse, a rumour that Holman Hunt had romantic relations with the model, Emma Watkins, went round in a humiliating satire (the editor of the publication was none other than Charles Dickens – who denied all knowledge despite being a strident critic of the Pre-Raphaelites).
Personal and artistic reputation torn to shreds, Holman Hunt was at a low ebb. But he had created something good. In fact, he had created something amazing. It was in this year that John Ruskin first made public his support of the Pre-Raphaelite attention to detail and nature, and since then, their work has never been dismissed from the public gaze. The Pre-Raphaelite’s were the first modern movement, and their fame and popularity refuses to wane.
Here at the gallery, we have researched hard and we believe our sketch is for the Hireling Shepherd, as the figure is in such a remarkably similar position, with the torso being identical. Look at the sketch and see if you agree. Holman Hunt didn’t create vast numbers of sketches, so all evidence of his ideas being worked on is exciting and important. This work, with his characteristic signed initials, is a wonderful example of how he worked on his compositions before committing to the final painting. And what a painting to be working towards!
Come to the gallery and see how lovely it is. We can also go through authenticity and history.
You can own this work, and a piece of Pre-Raphaelite history, for £15,000.
Click here if you are interested in finding out more