Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Pot of Basil

William Holman Hunt's tragic masterpiece Isabella and the Pot of Basil (c. 1868) comes up for auction in Christie’s London sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist Art on 17 June with an estimated price tag of £5m to £8m. The tragedy is twofold. The year before he began this painting, Holman Hunt's wife died of consumption. He then poured his grief into depicting the tragic heroine of John Keats’ epic poem whose brothers murder her lover Lorenzo. Isabella disinters the corpse, decapitates it, buries the head in a pot of basil and waters the plant with her tears. In 1886 art critic Cosmo Monkhouse described it as a “picture of the century, to be mentioned hereafter whenever the history of the art of England is written”. High praise indeed. Hunt painted two versions, both of which were bought by art dealer Ernest Gambart for 1,800 guineas. One ended up in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, the other made its way to the Delaware Art Museum in the USA (CLICK).


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