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

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

Portrait of a Lady, probably Miss Isabella Waugh

inscribed by Edith Holman Hunt on the remains of a label on the stretcher '[Fo]r Slubby/with [lo]ve from/Edith H[olman Hunt]/Study of .../by W.H. [Holman Hunt]/.../[ma]de ... [Cam]pden'; oil on canvas, in original frame designed by the artist
22 x 14in. (55.9 x 35.6cm.)
Given by Edith Holman Hunt to Sir John Macdonell, KCB ('Slubby')
By descent to his wife Dame Agnes Macdonell, 1921
By descent to their daughter Margaret Alder, 1925
By descent to her niece Imogen Pilch by 1957
Lynn Roberts, 'Nineteenth Century English Picture Frames. II: The Victorian High Renaissance', International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, V, 1986, p.275, repr. in frame p.280, fig.4

Lot Essay

The facial resemblance between the sitter and Holman Hunt's portraits of his mother-in-law Mrs George Waugh (Cleveland Museum of Art), first and second wives (Toledo Museum of Art and private collection), and George Waugh (private collection), suggests that this is the likeness of another Waugh sibling, probably Isabella, born in 1843.

The mention of 'Campden' on the label on the stretcher may indicate that the painting was executed between March and August 1866, when Hunt and his first wife Fanny were living at 1 Tor Villa, Campden Hill, Kensington. At that time the artist was busy finishing The Festival of St Swithin (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) before leaving England for the East and was in financial difficulties, which may account for the portrait having been abandoned. The strip of canvas added to the lower edge (measuring 2 1/4in., 5.6cm.) indicates that at some point Hunt intended finishing it, while the duck-egg blue paint applied rather drily around the head was probably added after he realised that he would be unable to do so (perhaps owing to the estrangement between him and the Waughs once Fanny's sister Edith had informed her parents in late 1872 of her love for the painter).

The sitter's headband, of black lotus flowers and anthemia on a gold background, is classical in design, and Lynn Roberts, linking this with the roundels depicting the phases of the moon decorating the Hunt-designed frame, identifies the painting as a depiction of Artemis (loc. cit.). It is, however, unlikely to have been conceived as a portrait of the goddess of chastity, since the frame's pattern of ellipses incorporating acanthus leaves and the outer triangular moulding are based on a study of 1876 inscribed 'Arab ornamental frieze on doorway of Mosque Jerusalem' (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery).

The painting was given by Edith Holman Hunt to Sir John Macdonell (1845-1921), a jurist and professor of law who lived at 31 Kensington Park Gardens.

We are grateful to Miss Judith Bronkhurst for preparing this catalogue entry.

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