Painter, painting, paint : a reappraisal of the work of William Holman.
Art historians tend to focus on the literary aspects of Hunt's paintings and little is said
about their disconcerting appearance. This thesis explores Hunt's attitude to art-making and
his artistic practice in order to investigate the relationship between the form of his work and
To this end, Hunt's written output is reevaluated. A distinction is made between public
texts and private journals and letters. The latter display accelerating concerns about the
artistic persona. A sense of religious doubt, weakness and mortality is answered by an
alternative self-image which aspires to prophetic authority. During later years, this fantasy
centres on hopes of resurrection. These anxieties pivot around the perfection and
authenticity of the artist's production.
The realism of Hunt's painting style authenticates his religious subject matter and the
beliefs and self-image behind it. Public texts emphasise an objective, mimetic technique and
attempt to elide the processes by which subjective meanings are inscribed into the image.
However, in practice, Hunt completes his paintings in two distinct stages. The
combination, on the same canvas, of an elaborate, linear design and precise, mimetic colour
effects represents the artist's attempt to synthesise the imagined and the real. This process
results in a paradoxical subversion of both imaginative and optical authority which retraces
the doubts manifested in Hunt's writings.
The dislocation between real and imagined appearance is confronted at the point of
laying the colour on the canvas. Hunt conducts extensive research into technique in order to
gain control over this act, but this also heightens an awareness of the contradictory identity
of the image as paint. He addresses this by aligning the materials themselves with the moral
order which is being depicted. Their inevitable imperfections therefore connote disorder
and the art object, as well as the image, becomes an expression of the artist's unstable
identity and beliefs.