William Holman Hunt was born on April 2, 1827. Hunt's real middle name was 'Hobman', which he disliked intensely. He chose to call himself Holman when he discovered that his middle name had been misspelled this way after a clerical error at his wedding.
After entering the Royal Academy art schools (having initially been rejected), Hunt rebelled and formed the Pre-Raphaelite movement in 1848, after meeting Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. They sought to revitalise art by detailed observation of the natural world in the spirit of quasi-religious devotion to truth. This approach was influenced by the spiritual qualities of medieval art, opposed to the rationalism of the Renaissance.
Hunt's works were initially not successful, and were attacked in the art press for their alleged clumsiness. He achieved some attention for his naturalistic scenes of modern urban and rural life. However, it was with his religious paintings that he became famous. Hunt travelled to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works. He also painted many works based on poems.
All these paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, their elaborate symbolism and their hard vivid colour. These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs. Hunt remained true to these ideals throughout his career. He eventually had to give up painting because failing eyesight meant that he could not get the level of quality that he wanted. His last major work, 'The Lady of Shalott', was completed with the help of an assistant.
Hunt married two times. After a failed engagement to his model Annie Miller, he married Fanny Waugh. She died in childbirth in Italy. His second wife, Edith, was Fanny's sister. At this time this was illegal in Britain, so Hunt was forced to travel abroad to marry her.
In 1905, he was appointed to the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. At the end of his life he lived in Sonning-on-Thames. William Holman Hunt died on September 7, 1910.