William Holman Hunt (2 April 1827 – 7 September 1910) was an English painter known for his incredibly intricate paintings and clever use of color. He also founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, which was a group of artists who rejected the mechanistic approach adopted by artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo.
He was actually not all that successful initially and was criticized for alleged clumsiness in his works (which seems like harsh criticism based on his paintings). He eventually became famous for his detailed religious paintings, such as:
But I am not writing about Hunt for his religious paintings. Instead, I am writing about Hunt for his naturalistic animal paintings which I am fascinated by. The painting below is how I become familiar with Hunt’s work and it is still my favorite. The painting demonstrates an incredibly high level of detail and some clever use of color. It almost looks surreal.
There is a beautiful contrast between lights and darks. Interestingly, Hunt retained a high level of detail even in the darks. I usually prefer to leave the darks to be slightly ambiguous. The faded background also gives you a break from the intricate detail and creates a sense of depth in the painting.
If you look closely, you can break the painting into three areas – the foreground with the detailed sheep and vegetation; the middle ground with relatively less detail and some interesting shapes and patterns; and finally the background which provides a gradual decline in color and detail until you are left with nothing but a faint tint of color.
Even if you are not a fan of this style of painting, you have to admire the level of craftsmanship.
Here is a similar painting by Hunt named “The Scapegoat”. In the Bible, a scapegoat is an animal which is ritually burdened with the sins of others then driven away. So there seem to be strong religious undertones even in this painting.
I wish Hunt had created more of these naturalistic animal and landscape paintings, but the focus seemed to be on the religious settings.
What You Can Learn From William Holman Hunt
Hunt’s style is not for everyone. But regardless of whether you like the style of not, you can learn much from the incredible display of detail and use of color.
Hunt also provides some great demonstrations of how to paint realistic animals. I personally think he painted the animals more skillfully than the human subjects. It is unfortunate that there only seems to be a handful of these animal paintings by Hunt, as he clearly favored religious settings.
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