Saturday, December 15, 2012

Arthur Hughes Meets Millais

Based on a true story.

Everyone agreed that Arthur Hughes was an Incredibly Nice Guy. He was known for his graciousness and modesty. William Michael Rossetti had this to say about him :

Arthur Hughes at 19, a self-portrait.

If I had to pick out, from my once numerous acquaintances of the male sex, the sweetest & most ingenuous nature of all, the least carking & querulous, & the freest from envy hatred & malice, & all uncharitableness, I should probably find myself bound to select Mr Hughes.”

He also had a very happy marriage, five children and wasn't particularly concerned if he had fame or fortune as long as he and his family were comfortable. This of course makes him the complete weirdo of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Hughes once returned a check one of his patrons paid him for a painting, writing that she had paid too much and to please write him a new one as he couldn't possibly accept such an exorbitant amount. I don't think I could be ever be that modest....

Arthur Hughes was not one of the official Brotherhood, of course, but he was a devoted follower of The Germ (a sort of Pre-Raphaelite magazine published in the early days of the PRB, full of reviews, PRB philosophy and poetry. With pictures, of course.) He would later become acquainted with Dante Gabriel Rossetti through Walter Deverell (Pre-Raphaelite friend and auxiliary member of the PRB who is probably most known for having discovered Elizabeth Siddal working in a hatshop and being the first artist to hire her as a model.)

Arthur Hughes' first version of Ophelia with the pond that Millais didn't like.
 Arthur Hughes' first version of Ophelia had the bad timing to be hung at the Royal Academy at  the same time as John Everett Millais' more famous rockstar version of the same subject.While Millais gained quite a lot of deserved fame from his Ophelia, Hughes' version was relegated to the Octagon Room, called by the resident artists "The Condemned Cell". Not only was it in a terrible location, it was hung extremely high up ("above the line") where it could only be observed with the use of a ladder. This, sadly, would be the fate of many of Hughes' future paintings at the Royal Academy.

However, young Arthur was resigned to his fate but was astounded when his hero, the older former student Millais (with whom he had never spoken) wandered over and asked him if he was "Cherry". (Arthur Hughes' artist friends had given him this nickname because he frequently blushed.) Millais told him that he had indeed climbed the ladder to look at his version of Ophelia and that it had given him "more pleasure than any picture there".

 But... he didn't like the pond.

 Millais enlisted Arthur Hughes to pose for his painting, The Proscribed Royalist, 1651 (below):

He's the one in the tree.
April Love
"Ned, go grab it before Ruskin
gets his hands on it!"
Arthur Hughes quickly became known for his Millais-inspired paintings of couples in love and delicately rendered maidens-- many done in his trademark purple and green. Infact, his most well-known painting April Love was bought by William Morris-- who sent a grumbling Edward Burne-Jones to scurry off and purchase it for him before anyone else did. (He'd heard John Ruskin wanted it.)

 When Walter Deverell introduced Hughes to Rossetti, Rossetti was delighted by Hughes' Ophelia. (Deverell complained that he hated the somewhat sinister addition of a bat flying above the stream in the painting; but of course animal-loving Rossetti proclaimed  it to be one of his favorite things about it.)

Rossetti enlisted Hughes among others (including young William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Valentine Prinsep) to help paint the murals in the Oxford Union Hall that famously began to fade because the young artists failed to prepare a proper protective "ground" on the walls first. (And revealed underneath the fading paintings were some wombat cartoons, proving that the Oxford Union gang wasn't above having a good time.)

Ophelia, Version 2.0

Arthur Hughes would go on to do a second version of Ophelia (left) and produce an incredibly huge amount of work that also included book illustrations. He most famously did illustrations for Victorian fantasy writer George MacDonald (Phantastes and The Princess and the Goblin.)

An illustration for George MacDonald's fantasy novel Phantastes.

One of his biggest fans and later a good friend was Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), who became a sort of "uncle" to Hughes' children and frequently photographed them.

Arthur Hughes would always remain a well-liked and lifelong friend to many members of the PRB as well as the "Second Phase" PRB, led by Morris and Burne-Jones. Cherry's cheerful, self-effacing and non-competitive demeanor was probably refreshing for everyone.

The elder Cherry.
Still happy that Millais
 hated his pond.

Coming up next: Ford Madox Brown Meets Young Rossetti.


  1. Very nice story!
    He was very different then all them, maybe this difference is the reason because he was accepted in the group.
    I like his nickname: Cherry! Gorgeous!

    1. Thank you, Lucrezia!
      I want to do some more about "Cherry" Hughes in future cartoons, hopefully involving the Oxford Union murals. (The plot would be the others trying to make him blush...)

  2. Some great background on Hughes. I'm very much enjoying your cartoons and blog on the Pre-Raph dudes and their circle. Thanks!! : )

    1. Thank you so much, Holly! I'm glad you're enjoying these silly cartoons! :)

      There isn't much out there about Arthur Hughes' life, which is a shame. I got some interesting stories from his only biography, Arthur Hughes: His Life and Works by Leonard Roberts (which I had to get as a used book) and some of Hughes' recollections about Millais from The Life and Letters of John Everett Millais (by Millais' son.)

  3. Great post! Hughes' later Ophelia is one of my very favorite paintings (and not just because my friends said it looked like me when we saw it in Toledo). :-)

    1. Thank you, Valerie! And what a great compliment to be compared to that beautiful painting!!

  4. Thank you for this post. April Love has always been my favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting and I wish there was more information available about him.

    1. Thank you, Melissa! I wish there was more information about him as well. One of his daughters actually burned a huge amount of his papers and sketches when she had to move into a smaller residence late in her life. I can imagine there was a wealth of information about him that was lost right there.

  5. This blog is just perfect! I´m officially addicted. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you so much!!! I'm giving it a good go at any rate!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Yes I accidentally deleted my own comment-- no cause for concern...

  7. That pond's alright. Nothing wrong with that pond.
    Discovered your blog only today. The cartoons really are great. And interesting new info on the pre-raphs. Margje (JaneyMB) mentioning your work to me was a good thing indeed!

    1. Haha! Thanks, Ulrik. I agree. Cherry's pond is absolutely fine. :)
      Thank you (and thank Margye!) for stopping by and checking out the blog version of the cartoons. (I have to admit that writing the liner notes takes longer than drawing the actual cartoons!)

  8. Thanks for sharing, nice post! Post really provice useful information!

    Giaonhan247 chuyên dịch vụ vận chuyển hàng đi mỹ cũng như dịch vụ ship hàng mỹ từ dịch vụ nhận mua hộ hàng mỹ từ trang ebay vn cùng với dịch vụ mua hàng amazon về VN uy tín, giá rẻ.