William Holman Hunt, O.M., R.W.S. (1827-1910)
William Holman Hunt, O.M., R.W.S. (1827-1910)

A staircase at Rochester Castle, Kent

William Holman Hunt, O.M., R.W.S. (1827-1910)
A staircase at Rochester Castle, Kent
signed with monogram and inscribed 'ROCHESTOR [sic]' (lower left), and inscribed ‘Stairs to Tower where “Claudio and Isabella” was painted' (on a label on the reverse, probably by Edith Holman Hunt)
oil on board
11 x 7 1/8 in. (28 x 18 cm.)
By descent in the artist's family to Mrs Elisabeth Burt; Sotheby's, Belgravia, 20 June 1972, lot 53 (£260 to Perrini).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Belgravia, 1 July 1975, lot 48 (£130 to Christopher Gibbs).
with Christopher Gibbs, London, until December 1976.
with The Maas Gallery, London.
W.H. Hunt, 'The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: A Fight for Art', Contemporary Review, XLIX, 1886, p. 480.
W.H. Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, London, 1905, vol. 1, p. 114; 1913 ed., vol. 1, p. 80.
J. Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2006, vol. I., p. 125, no. 54.
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, on loan 1965-72.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; and London, Victoria & Albert Museum, William Holman Hunt, 1969, no. 14.

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Lot Essay

The painting shows the winding staircase in the east angle of Rochester’s Norman castle. The inscription on the back, almost certainly in the hand of Edith Holman Hunt, the artist’s second wife and widow, associates it with his early masterpiece Claudio and Isabella (Tate Britain), but this is misleading. The background of Claudio and Isabella was not painted in Rochester Castle but in the Lollard Prison in Lambeth Palace, London.

Nor does the date of the sketch tally with that of Claudio and Isabella, an illustration to Measure for Measure that Hunt conceived in 1850 and exhibited at the Royal Academy three years later. Mary Bennett, cataloguing it for the Holman Hunt exhibition in 1969, suggested that it was executed in August 1848, when Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti are known to have visited Rochester and Blackheath. Their friendship had developed that summer through membership of the Cyclographic Society, and they were soon to share a studio in Cleveland Street, Bloomsbury. However, in her more recent catalogue raisonné of Hunt’s work, Judith Bronkhurst argues for an even earlier date, pointing out that the sketch is stylistically similar to a study of the kitchen at Rectory Farm, Ewell, the Surrey home of Hunt’s uncle William Hobman (her cat, no. 49), which she dates to c. 1847. In other words, our sketch would seem to be the product of a previous, unrecorded visit to Rochester by Hunt, one that perhaps inspired him to return with Rossetti a year later, eager to share with his new friend a favourite picturesque haunt.

Whatever the date of the painting, it seems almost certain that the signature was added later. Hunt does not appear to have used this form (his initials in monogram without his surname) before 1852.

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