Biography: William Holman Hunt was the oldest of seven children born to a Cheapside warehouse manager. His early interest in sketching was not encouraged, and it was not until 1843 that he gained his family's blessing to pursue a career as a painter. His early training consisted primarily of copying Old Masters at the British Museum and elsewhere until he met John Everett Millais (1829-1896) in 1844. The same year, at his third attempt, he was accepted as a probationer into the Royal Academy Schools and as a full student in 1845. He spent the next few years working out of a studio in his parents' house, talking art with Millais, reading Ruskin's recently published Modern Painters (1847), and discovering the poetry of John Keats. Through Millais, he became close friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, sharing a studio with him for a time in 1849. It was during this period that Hunt and six other young artists and writers formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. According to his autobiography, (Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first published in 1905), it was Hunt who was integral in founding this short-lived artistic coterie. Although Rienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice (1849, private collection), his first Pre-Raphaelite work (signed with the P.R.B. insignia), was well received at the Royal Academy, the second, A Converted British Family Sheltering from Druids (1850, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), was lambasted because of suspicions raised by the three initials. Despite John Ruskin's defense, published in the London Times of 1851, Hunt's career did not immediately take off, prompting him briefly to consider alternative modes of earning a living. Fortunately, the appearance of a small number of loyal patrons in the following months and years, including Thomas Combe and Thomas Fairbairn, prevented a career change.
Early in 1854 Hunt set off on the first of several visits to the Holy Land, where he painted and sketched biblical subjects in their "original" geographic locale. The results of this trip, The Finding of the Savior in the Temple (1854-1860, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) and The Afterglow in Egypt (1854-1863, Southampton City Art Gallery), were immensely popular at home and solidified his reputation and economic well-being.
In December 1865 Hunt married Fanny Waugh, the beautiful daughter of a Regent Street chemist who had modeled for several Pre-Raphaelite compositions. In August of the following year, despite Fanny's five-month pregnancy, the couple set out for the Far East, via Florence. Tragically, Fanny died in December after the birth of their son Cyril. Hunt's second marriage was in 1875, to Fanny's younger sister Edith. They were married in Switzerland, as English Church law did not sanction a widower to marry the sister of his dead wife.
When Hunt visited Jerusalem one last time in 1892, his eyesight was beginning to fail. He spent the last years of his life finishing painting projects and working on his autobiography. He died September 7, 1910, in Kensington.
From "Biography of William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 363.