16 June 2010
William Holman Hunt, R.W.S., O.M. (1827-1910)
Study for the head of Christ in 'The Shadow of Death'
pencil, red chalk and brown wash, heightened with white on paper incised along the left, right and lower margin
11½ x 11¼ in. (29.2 x 28.3 cm.)
Dow's auction house, Edinburgh, c. 1970.
with Anthony Mould, London, by January 1984.
with Agnew's, London, by April 1984, where purchased by the present owner.
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Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt, A Catalogue Raisonné,, vol. II, Drawings and Watercolours, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 150, no. D 293.
Springfield, 1988, no. 47.
Even though the identity of the model is uncertain, the eyes, open mouth and upstretched arms, suggest that this is a study for the head of the Saviour in The Shadow of Death (1870-72, Manchester Art Gallery). One of Hunt's most popular and reproduced works, The Shadow of Death depicts Christ as a young carpenter stretching out his arms after sawing wood, with the sun falling on his figure in such a way as to create a shadow behind him on a row of carpenter's tools, prefiguring the crucifixion.
Judith Bronkhurst dates the present drawing to circa 1872, when after returning from the Holy Land, Hunt reworked the head of Christ. It is believed that the sitter could be the Irish model Mary O'Brien, who sat to Hunt for a number of pictures including The Bride of Bethlehem (Private Collection). There is also an oil sketch of the same sitter in the Manchester City Gallery. It was not unusual for Hunt to use female sitters as models for Christ; he had initially adopted this idea in The Light of the World (Keble College, Oxford).
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