In 1854, Hunt traveled to the Holy Land. For many of the Pre-Raphaelites, traveling to the Holy Land was almost a conversion experience, many believed that it was there that they would be able to experience a more real and truthful nature, one untouched by convention or mankind. The Great Pyramid is a watercolor painted by Hunt during his time in Egypt. The most arresting image in this watercolor is, naturally, the sight of the pyramid looming in the background. However, at second glance, one's eye is drawn towards the foreground inhabited by some humans and a flock of ducks who stand in the water oblivious to the looming pyramid behind them. The presence of the people is almost, like the pyramid, forgotten. They are going about their daily business and ultimately, our attention is caught not by the man-made pyramid in the background nor the people in between, but rather, in the play of the water and the ducks in the foreground. This is where all the action takes place, the ducks are the most alive creatures in this watercolor and Hunt gives them great attention and care. Indeed, the emphasis on the ducks in the foreground is underlined by the fact that one of the ducks actually swims above the reflection of the pyramid. Ultimately, it is the shadow of the pyramid in the water, and the play of the ducks above it that seem more real to us than the actual pyramid in the background.

Thus although it would seem that a work entitled The Great Pyramid should focus on the pyramid in the title, Hunt rather coaxes the viewer to enjoy the natural setting for the pyramid and admire the life of the waterfowl rather than linger on the mound of man-built earth in the background.

Questions

Hunt's trip takes place only a few years after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded. What aspects of this watercolor reflect the ideals of the PRB? The PRB were very much interested in experimenting with awkwardness and ugliness, does anything in the watercolor reflect this experimentation?

Given the emphasis on the water and the ducks in the foreground, why would Hunt entitle this painting The Great Pyramid? It almost seems as if the pyramid is merely a setting for the more natural activity. Indeed, while on the one hand the pyramid is highly artificial with its sharp lines and looming aspect, it is also very organic, lacking definition or clarity and placed in the background.

Many years later, Hunt would write on the transience of life that he experienced especially in the Middle East. How does this watercolor reflect any such thoughts? Does it?

How realistic is Hunt's landscape? (I found the colors to be very sharp and almost unrealistic). Hunt found the Middle East to be a land of wonder; in 1854, he described Cairo as

The tune is more than simple, but the most plaintive monotony recalls to one's mind the full hopeless sense of pleasure of Tennyson's lotus eaters. This is no forced comparison for I was going to write that it seemed to convey a wish that time should stop and leave them at peace to sing and sleep for ever, rather than drive them forward through further toil to a greater rest and active enjoyment, when the poem came into my mind as describing the same feeling.

Does this work reflect any of these sentiments?


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Last modified 17 September 2006