The Ship by W. Holman Hunt. 1875-79. Oil on canvas lined with blind stretcher), 75 x 96.5 cm. [Click on image to enlarge it.] Tate Britain. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).

In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Hunt, who had to keep painting whether he was on the move or settled in an encampment or Jerusalem, explains that he began this work to test some linen he had purchased when the canvas he had sent from home hadn’t arrived.

I put to the test a portion of linen on which to painting my picture entitled “The Ship.” I had made elaborate sketches on board the P. and O. boat on our way from Venice, seeing that the man at the the wheel still guided the vessel from the stern, and thus I was able to illustrate Tennyson’s quatrain — 

I hear the noise about thy keel,
I hear the bell struck in the night,
I see the cabin window bright,
I see the sailor at the wheel! [Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I, 321]

In quoting from In Memoriam, one of the most famous and influential poems of the Victorian age, Hunt doesn’t provide the context of the four lines. In fact, they open the tenth section of In Memoriam’s 131 poems, dramatizing the poet’s first puzzled, agonizing realization that his friend had died, the single consolation (at this point) being that his friend’s body will lie in English soil rather

Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine.

Links to Related Material and Details


Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1905. Reproduced in monochrome facing I, 80.

Last modified 24 October 2012