The present work is one of the fruits of Holman Hunt's relationship with his first serious patron, Henry Clark (c.1812-1879). Clark, the proprietor of a "button and trimming warehouse" at 60 Aldermanbury, in the City of London (Post Office London Directory, 1843: Street Directory, p.102) was a business associate of Hunt's father, a near neighbour at 4 Dyer's Court. According to a typescript account by a descendant, Henry Clark "took kindly to the young Holman Hunt and helped him. He had the use of one of the rooms at my grandfather's and grandfather furnished him from time to time with brushes, paints and other materials" (Maas, op.cit., p.40).
From about 1843, Henry Clark and his growing family lived at High Street, Homerton (listed in the 1851 Census at No. 186: ref.107/1505 fol.473). Holman Hunt almost certainly stayed with them there in August 1849 when he was working on A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). About 1844-5, when Hunt was attempting to forge a career as an independent artist, Clark commissioned an oil portrait of himself fishing on the banks of the River Lea (private collection). This was followed by our group portrait of almost identical dimensions, depicting Clark's mother-in-law, Mrs Davies of Wormbridge Court, Hereford (identified by Louis van Clark in his undated 'Family History of Clark and Abbott', MS. private collection), with some of his children.
In a letter to his early patron of 15 November 1876 (MS. private collection), Hunt dates the group portrait to "about the year 1846", which suggests that the two children on the right of the composition are Mary Clark, born in November 1839, and her brother John Adolphus, born 1842. The elder of the babies on the left is almost certainly Francis William, born in 1845 at Homerton. The sofa on which Mrs Davies sits appears again on a second portrait that Hunt painted of Henry Clark, dated 1846 (private collection), while the portrait of him fishing is partially visible in the top left-hand corner of our picture.
This is Hunt's earliest original depiction of a group in an interior, although he had by this date copied Wilkie's The Blind Fiddler and Theodore Lane's The Enthusiast (originals in the Tate Gallery; copies untraced). The Enthusiast includes, in the right foreground, a fireplace with an elaborate fender and patterned rug, and may have had some bearing on Hunt's composition. Intimations of the artist's later development can be seen here in the exploration of the play of sunlight and shadow and in the strong characterisation of the face of the old lady.
We are grateful to Dr. Judith Bronkhurst for her help in preparing this entry. The picture will be included in her catalogue raisonné.