illiam Holman Hunt thought of himself primarily as a painter of serious, morally and spiritually uplifting works. Considered in tradtional terms, he would be categorized as an artist who concentrated on history and religious painting. The Light of the World, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, The Shadow of Death, and even The Scapegoat, which are among his best-known works, fit fairly well into this classification scheme. Such categorization, however, has several problems. First, like many Victorian painters who had to live by their art, Hunt painted portraits for money (Cannon Jenkins, Richard Owen). In addition, he painted "fancy pictures," usually women in historical costume, which he occasionally described in letters as "potboilers;" works of this description include the comparatively little known Bride of Bethlehem, Bianca, and Amaryllis. In addition, early and late in his career Hunt drew and painted portraits of family and friends, such as Rossetti and Millais, as keepsakes and memorials. Then, there are the artist's landcapes (Our English Coasts) and works with major landscape elements (The Scapeegoat). Perhaps most suprising, given the painter's well deserved reputation for high seriousness — earnestness and Evangelicals would have it — he created cartoons, often in the body of letters, which he sent to friends and family. although nowhere as gifted a cartoonist or humorist as Burne-Jones, Hunt does show another and unexpected side of himself in these works. Holman Hunt, we can conclude, painted in a far wider range of genres than one might expect.
Traditional conceptions of genre do not work very effectively in relation to Hunt's best known paintings. Since his goal involved finding new ways to present traditional religious themes, he often produced strangely hybrid works, pictures that combine two or more common genres. The Scapegoat, for example, combines at least three genres, landscape painting, an animal picture, and Hogarthian plays between word and image — Ruskin added a fourth: commercial signage, for he told Hunt his picture looked like a sign hangining in front of a pub. The Scapegoat, which is either one of Hunt's most daring attempts to reconfigure religious painting or a disaster, was painted as a religious painting. Similarly, the far more successful The Shadow of Death, which was agreat hit with English workers, combines Sacred History, one of the highest genres, with ethographic and archeological realism and genre painting. From Hunt's point of view The Awakening Conscience also combines various genres, since it is both genre painting, book illustration, Hogarthian satire, and spiritual or religious art — this last since Hunt explained he intended the picture as the embodiment in the real, physical, social world of the event taking place in its allegorical companion piece, The Light of the World.
Last modified 12 June 2007 2004