Description: PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG WOMAN, PERHAPS ISABELLA WAUGH
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55 by 35.5 cm., 21 ½ by 14 in.
inscribed by Edith Holman Hunt on the remains of an old label attached to the stretcher: [Fo]r Slubby / [with lo]ve from / Edith H[olman Hunt] / [S]tudy of... / by W.H.[Holman Hunt] / ... / [ma]de... [Cam]pden
oil on canvas in its original frame designed by the artist
Given by Edith Holman Hunt to Sir John Macdonell, KCB ('Slubby', in her inscription);
To his wife, Dame Agnes Macdonell, 1921;
To her daughter, Margaret Alder, 1925;
To her niece, Imogen Pilch, by 1957;
Christie's, London, 14 July 1972, lot 9;
Christie's, London, 21 July 1978, lot 49;
Sotheby's, London, 15 June 1982, lot 61;
Christie's, London, 12 June 1992, lot 110;
Christie's, London, 5 March 1993, lot 102;
Lynn Roberts, 'Nineteenth Century English Picture Frames II: The Victorian High Renaissance', International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, vol.V, 1986, p.275, reproduced in frame, p.280, fig.4;
Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné (to be published by Yale University Press in June 2006), vol.I, cat. no.105, p.206, reproduced in colour; vol.II (in the section 'Frames designed by or partially designed by William Holman Hunt'), no.20, p.312
This painting appears to be the commencement of a portrait rather than a study for a head to be incorporated into a figurative composition. A woman's head is shown, with her hair drawn back and held by a gold band decorated with an anthemion pattern and stylised lotus flowers.
The torn label in Edith Holman Hunt's hand indicates that it was painted at 1 Tor Villa, where Hunt lived for a period of months in the spring and summer of 1866. He was then working on The Festival of St Swithin (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and otherwise was attempting to get his affairs in order before setting out for the Holy Land. The portrait was presumably left unfinished because Hunt ran out of time before his departure for the East. There may have been plans to work on it again -- an extra strip of canvas was added to the lower edge at some stage, which would have allowed space for more of the figure's shoulders and arms to be shown -- perhaps in the late 1860s.
That the painting was something of which Hunt was proud, despite its having been left unfinished, is demonstrated by its placing in a frame made to the artist's own design and which incorporated disks representing the phases of the moon. This decorative motif has lead to the suggestion that the figure was intended to represent Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt who also presided over the transition of girls into a state of womanhood (see Roberts, loc. cit.). The pattern of the frame is based on a drawn study that Hunt made in Palestine in 1876 and which is inscribed 'Arab ornamental frieze on doorway of Mosque Jerusalem' (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery).
The portrait is likely to show a member of the Waugh family. Holman Hunt was married first to Fanny Waugh, who died in 1866, and then in 1875 to her sister Edith. A distinct physical resemblance on the part of the sitter to each of them (as they are seen in portraits by Hunt in Toledo Museum of Art and private collection, respectively) suggests that this may be of Isabella, another of their siblings, who had been born in 1843. If this theory is correct, it may be that Hunt finally abandoned the portrait at the time when relations with the Waugh family deteriorated when Edith and he announced their intention to marry (the Waughs were opposed to the marriage because according to English law, it was illegal for someone to be wed to his deceased wife's sister).
We are grateful to Dr Judith Bronkhurst for assistance in the preparation of this catalogue note. The possibly identification of the sitter has been suggested by Dr Bronkhurst.