William Holman Hunt, The Birthday, 1868
Oil on canvas, 40 1/2 x 28 5/8 in. (102.9 x 72.7 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Endowment Income Fund and Grover A. Magnin Endowment Bequest Income Fund, 2019.33
The Birthday was the first painting by William Holman Hunt, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to enter a public collection on the West Coast of the United States. It portrays Edith Waugh—Hunt’s second wife and the sister of his deceased first wife, Fanny—on her twenty-first birthday. With its vibrant coloring and tactile brushwork, The Birthday embodies the aesthetic forged by the Pre-Raphaelites against the grain of the more narrative approach then championed by official art institutions. As one observer noted in a review of the 1869 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, where The Birthday was first exhibited, “Mr. Holman Hunt […] is ‘in’ the Academy as an exhibitor, but, for reasons best known to himself, not ‘of’ it.”
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