Saturday, September 11, 2010

William Holman Hunt - Daniel praying

Price Realized £17,400

inscribed by the artist from Daniel 6:10-11 'Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house and his window being open towards Jerusalem, he kneeled upon/his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God as he did aforetime. /Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God' (lower centre, in the margin) and with further inscription by Edith Holman Hunt 'Study for "Cyclographic" by W. Holman Hunt for history of the movement see PR itisim [sic] by WHH' and 'To dear "I.G." from his friend of 30 years M Edith Holman Hunt Xmas 1923' (on the backboard)
pencil, pen and black and brown ink and grey wash, fragmentary watermark 'J W[HATMAN]/TURK[EY MILL]', within the artist's black-line border, unframed
9 1/8 x 10¾ in. (23.2 x 27.5 cm.)

J. Bronkhurst, 'New Light on Holman Hunt', Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXIX, November 1987, pp. 737-9, illustrated fig. 46, p. 738.
J. Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London (forthcoming), cat. no. D40, vol. II, pp. 23-4, illustrated p. 23.

Daniel Praying almost certainly dates from 1849, and is thus the first illustration to a specific biblical text undertaken by any member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Daniel is portrayed in the Old Testament as a wise and virtuous man and a skilled interpreter of dreams, whose character provokes jealousy, resentment and murderous designs. Despite being a Jew, he has risen to become King Darius's chief counsellor. The king is, however, persuaded to sign a decree outlawing religious observance in Babylon, which Daniel promptly ignores. Hunt inscribed his drawing with the verses he chose to illustrate from chapter six of the book of Daniel (quoted above). He thus focuses on Daniel as a man for whom faith is more real than life itself, and who is later to enter the lions' den without fear, secure in the knowledge that his God will save him.

When he executed this drawing Hunt was not yet a devout believer. In August 1848 he and Dante Gabriel Rossetti had drawn up a list of Immortals with the declaration - as Hunt later recalled in his memoirs - that 'there was no immortality for humanity except that which was gained by man's own genius or heroism'. Daniel is not on the list despite his intellect and bravery. He surely would have been included had Hunt's drawing been executed in 1848, as one of the Cyclographic Society drawings. This sketching club, an important precursor of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, circulated drawings for criticism among its members, who included the three young men who were to form the PRB'S most talented triumvirate. It was here that they first submerged their individual idiosyncrasies into a group style of hard-edged graphic outlines. In an inscription on the back of the frame Edith Holman Hunt identified Daniel Praying as a drawing submitted to the Cyclographic, but it is less finished than Hunt's other submissions and includes shading as well as outlines. Moreover, in terms of subject matter, Daniel Praying does not accord with Hunt's literary preoccupations in the summer of 1848. Benjamin's Sack (Private Collection, Costa Rica), an Old Testament subject dating from earlier that year, is a copy from Ghiberti, and there is no substantive evidence of Hunt's interest in religious themes as material for original graphic work before 1849.
The combination of outline and hatching and of pen and brush in Daniel Praying can be compared with A Medieval Warehouse of 1848-50 (Musée du Louvre), although Hunt's technique in Daniel Praying is somewhat freer. In this it is similar to his compositional sketches for A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids, 1849 (Johannesburg Art Gallery), and, in terms of shading, Claudio and Isabella, 1850 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The intensity of expression on the face of Daniel suggests a date of 1849 rather than 1848. It can be compared to the look of suffering on the face of the nun-like figure in the Druids compositional study, which also deals with religious persecution. It is rather different from the more stylized expressions in Hunt's 1848 drawings for the Cyclographic.

Contemporary German illustration was one of the major influences on the Pre-Raphaelites' hard-edged drawing style of the late 1840s. The compositional format of Daniel Praying may have been influenced by such illustrations, notably those of Josef Führich and Moritz Retzsch. Hunt later recalled that during the inaugural meeting of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Millais's Gower Street studio the young men pored over 'a set of outlines of Führich in the Retzsch manner...[that] had quite remarkable merits'. Could these have been Führich's illustrations of 1824-5 to Ludwig Tieck's Genovefa? One of these outlines shows Siegfried taking leave of Genovefa before setting out with a group of soldiers who are shown squashed into the shallow space of the courtyard in the left background. As in Daniel Praying, a steeply mounted floor denies recession, to such an extent that the figure standing at the front of the courtyard seems to grow out of the edge of the floor. In Hunt's drawing the malevolent spies in the left background are similarly cut down, and it is difficult to envisage their lower limbs. An outline illustration of 1824 by Retzsch to Schiller's Der Kampf mit dem Drachen may also have been known to Hunt. Here the subject, a suppliant kneeling in prayer observed by two onlookers, is closer to Daniel Praying, and, as in the two other images, Retzsch uses the device of a sharply angled floor pierced by an aperture giving on to a view beyond.

These German illustrations have generalized medieval settings, whereas the first biblical passage Hunt chose to illustrate contains a definite geographical location, Daniel's 'window being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem'. A tentative attempt at ethnographic accuracy can be seen in Daniel's Semitic features and, perhaps, his discarded sandals and hat.

Elements in Daniel Praying anticipate mature Pre-Raphaelite works. The theme of inner vision, conveyed by the suppliant's closed eyes and rapt expression, looks forward to Millais's The Blind Girl of 1854-5 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) and Rossetti's Beata Beatrix, circa 1864-70 (Tate). The view in the left background anticipates that over the courtyard in The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, 1854-60 (Birmingham); the face of the rabbi holding a scroll in that picture is similar to that of Daniel. Moreover, the Torah on the window-sill at the right of Daniel Praying was to feature in The Shadow of Death of 1870-3 (Manchester Art Gallery). Hunt never worked up a Daniel subject, but Edward Lear's letter to him of January 1865 facetiously makes the important point that since the success of The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple the Victorian public was avid for religious works set in the Holy Land: 'I wonder what you will do in the East. Some one said, Dannel [sic] in the Lion's den... (So far as popular delight would make success sure - Daniel & c - with Balaam's ass seen thro' a window - Jonah's whale on a distant shore - Elijah's ravens - & the Gadarene piggy-wiggies - would be a lovely subject.)'. Daniel in the lions' den sounds like a subject for Landseer rather than Hunt, whereas the focus on Daniel's psychology in this remarkable Pre-Raphaelite drawing is entirely characteristic of the younger artist.

Daniel Praying has remained in the same family since Edith Holman Hunt gave it to Sir Israel Gollancz in 1923. It has never been publicly exhibited.

We are very grateful to Dr. Judith Bronkhurst, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Hunt's works, for providing this catalogue entry.

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