In his article on Liverpool-born animal painters (Art Journal, 1904, pp. 219-21), E. Rimbault Dibdin praised Huggins as a master of his particular craft: 'Both as an executant in paint, and as a consummate expert in knowledge of animal form and character, Huggins was qualified to out-distance both Landseer and Ansdell'. Dibdin goes on to qualify Huggins's relative obscurity, arguing an 'odd temperament [that] kept him from taking the easy high road to success'.
Huggins was a early achiever. A star pupil at the Mechanics Institution, he was awarded a prize for his design Adam's Vision of the Death of Abel when just fifteen. That same year Huggins began exhibiting at the Liverpool Academy; his first submissions being indicative of his work to come - a study of a rabbit's head and the same of a cow's head.
Huggins's single animal heads bear comparison to the work of Swiss master Jacques Laurent-Agasse (1767-1849). Though painted in a detailed and meticulous manner, these compositions are also unarguably stylish in their bold symplicity.
The artist toured Liverpool's zoological garden where he made studies of his future subjects. He supplemented his income with conventional portrait commissions and executed several major historical paintings, such as Daniel in the Lion's Den (1841) and Christian about to turn back for fear of the Lions in his approach to the Palace Beautiful (1848; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).
Huggins also exhibited 31 pictures at the Royal Academy, as well as a number at the British Institution and Royal Society of British Artists in London. His unusual technique inspired both admiration and curiousity; he worked in transparent layers upon a white ground, and with a sometimes idiosyncratic colour scheme, upon millboard rather than canvas - which he disliked.
Huggins exclaimed of his most prominent rival: 'Landseer! If I'd had that man through my hands for three weeks, I'd have made a man of him!'. The is presumably a jibe at Landseer's pandering to the great and the good, whilst Huggins kept strictly to his remit: a dedication that did not go unrecognised by his contemporaries. More and more he began to sideline grander projects in favour of more modest human and animal portrait subjects. In 1904 the Art Journal could justly conclude: 'It was as a limner of animals, especially of great cats, that he was most valued. Not only were his pictures of them excellent, but his studies in crayon...are thing to cherish. Many are of singular beauty'.