Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

I went with my parents to the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts last weekend, where we saw the extraordinary exhibit
"Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision."

This artist had a thing for hair, and for what he called "stunner" women with flowing tresses, including the two sisters he married, Fanny, and then Edith, Waugh. He made a portrait, too, of his disapproving mother-in-law, Mrs. George Waugh – her curls are tamed.

Check out the wild unleashed storm cloud of hair on the Lady of Shalot, Hunt's last major painting, before he went blind. He was also known for his renderings of sheep's wool, velvet, peacock feathers, and all manner of tactile textiles. Hunt was one of the first of the hyper-realists, with a religious agenda, a symbolic frame of reference, and an intense sense of color. There's a sensuous dimension to his work, all roiled up in imagined scenes from Biblical history. Every inch of each canvas offers microscopic renderings, making it difficult to apprehend the whole.

My favorite image was a small unfinished portrait of an elaborately rendered woman's face, with just the red sketch of a bonnet around it. It offered a bit of breathing room and emptiness – two features that are otherwise missing in Hunt's work.

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