Recommended by Graeme Humphries (Deputy Director – Administration and Marketing)

  • OUR ENGLISH COASTS
  • William Holman Hunt, 1852
  • Oil in canvas / 43 x 58cm

While studying with the Open University I fell in love with the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Formed by a group of rebellious young English artists in 1848 as a reaction to what they saw as the abuses and excesses of the art of their day, they created an entirely new style of painting that looked back to the romance of medieval chivalry and also documented contemporary Victorian social themes. But what really drew me to their work were the stories their paintings told. Many were filled with symbolic images that help you to understand the story and others looking at first glance like a simple landscape were in fact commenting on the social issues of the day.

Holman Hunt was perhaps the best landscape artist of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and ‘Our English Coasts’ was one of the best examples of English landscape in sunlight of the period. Painted on the coast near Hastings, the sheep in the picture are unprotected, close to the cliff edge and in the distance the coast of France is visible. Tensions were high with France in 1852 and the painting hints at the vulnerability of the English coast to invasion.

Other paintings by Holman Hunt, such as ‘The Awakening’ have an even stronger narrative and are filled with symbolic elements which turn the viewer into a bit of a detective trying to work out the story of the painting.