"Fine Arts: The Royal Academy." Athenaeum 1.1384 (6 May 1854), 559-562.


Mr. W. H. Hunt’s The Light of the World (508), is a most eccentric and mysterious picture. The artist has chosen for his motto a text that serves as a key to his subject: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." At a deserted door, with no visible keyhole or latchet, overgrown with ivy and weeds and surrounded by fruit-trees, stands the Saviour wearing a crown,

around which twine the thorny branches of the passion, now covered with leaves. Over the plain robe hangs a rich jewelled pallium, resembling that of a mediæval bishop, and clasped over the chest with a jewelled brooch. With one hand he knocks at the disused door; in the other, which hangs down at his side, he carries a fantastic magic-lantern of apparently Greek design, the light of which plays upon the robe and struggles with the blue moonlight that films the distant trees and other parts of the picture; the pallium, besides being spangled with jewels, seems also dewy; and the foreground, strewed with ruddy apples, is starred with the glow-worms. The face of this wild fantasy, though earnest and religious, is not that of a Saviour. It expresses such a strange mingling of disgust, fear, and imbecility, that we turn from it to relieve the sight. The manipulation, though morbidly delicate and laboured, is not so massive as the mute passion displayed in the general feeling and detail demands. Altogether this picture is a failure–Mr. Hunt’s second picture is drawn from a very dark and repulsive side of modern domestic life; but we need scarcely say, is treated, in spite of strange heresies of taste and common sense, with an earnest religious spirit, and with a great, though mistaken, depth; enigmatic in its title, it is understood by few of the exoteric visitors. It is called The Awakening Conscience (377); and is heralded in the Catalogue by two mystical, irrelevant texts of Scripture. It represents a lady just risen from the piano, upon which lies a piece of music, and, turning from a "fast man" who laughs fiendishly, looks at the spectator with pale face, staring eyes, and clenched teeth. Innocent and unenlightened spectators suppose it to represent a quarrel between a brother and sister: it literally represents the momentary remorse of a kept mistress, whose thoughts of lost virtue, guilt, father, mother, and home have been roused by a chance strain of music. The author of ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ could not have conceived a more painful-looking face. The details of the picture–the reflection of the spring trees in the mirror, the piano, the bronze under the glass, &c.–are wonderfully true; but the dull indigoes and reds of the picture make it melancholy and appropriate, and not pleasing in tone. The sentiment is of the Ernest Maltravers school,–to those who have an affinity for it, painful–and to those who have not, repulsive.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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