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William Holman Hunt

1827 – 1910

The Father’s Leave-taking by William Holman Hunt

The Father’s Leave-taking   1879

  Original etching.
Signed in pencil.
Ref: Hartnoll 17
S 288 x 436 mm; P 189 x 253; I 182 x 247 mm
Original William Holman Hunt etching.

Rare pencil signed proof impression on large paper, as released in the special proof edition of the very scarce 1879 Etching Club portfolio. Brilliant impression with exceptional clarity and strong etched line.

William Holman Hunt has become one of the most famous artists of the Victorian era. A founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his aim was to depict nature with complete fidelity and he intended his works to portray the most noble of ideals. The Father's Leave-taking illustrates the extreme realism which could be achieved through accuracy of approach, every detail being defined with an exactness unique to this small group of artists.

This subject has been treated with the high-minded approach which is characteristic of Holman Hunt’s work. The artist has emphasised the significance of his departure from his family by portraying his wife and child with an almost sculpturesque monumentality. Far from the sentimental genre typical of Victorian art, this etching captures the immense import of an emotive moment, frozen in time, as a statement for posterity. In this respect, this etching bears direct comparison with the artist's painting of The Awakening Conscience dating from 1853.

The Father's Leave-taking is the most elaborate and one of the most scarce of Holman Hunt’s five original etchings – signed proof impressions, such as this, are now considerable rarities. This image may be considered to be the artist's finest etching, its three-dimensional solidity and the treatment of every detail, especially the intricate folds of his wife's dress, showing the handling of a true master.

This etching was based upon a silverpoint drawing which William Holman Hunt made on prepared paper whilst in Jerusalem. The image shows the artist's second wife, Edith, holding their daughter, Gladys, as she waves farewell to her father. The scene in the etching is depicted from a slightly lower, more square-on viewpoint than the drawing and introduces the background details, none of which are present in the drawing.

William Holman Hunt was first married to Fanny Waugh, the elder sister of his second wife Edith Waugh. Fanny had died in 1866 after bearing a single son and after only one year of marriage. In November 1875 the artist married Edith in Neufchatel, to evade the Deceased Wife’s Sister Act. After their marriage, the couple travelled to Palestine, returning to London in 1878. It was during these years that their daughter, Gladys was born. In 1879, the year of this etching, their son Hilary was born - his portrait entitled Master Hilary - The Tracer recently established a record for Hunt’s work at auction, fetching £968,000 at Christie's in London.

On fine laid Japan-style paper, with wide margins. Traces of minor creasing at extreme edges of sheet, otherwise very fine condition. Image surface excellent.