When, in 1854, William Holman Hunt decided to leave England to further his religious painting in Syria, John Everett Millais was distraught at the prospect of losing the only friend he entirely trusted.
In the throes of confused love for John
Ruskin's wife, Effie, Millais wrote: "In truth I don't think I
should have the strength to say goodbye - scarcely a night passes
but what I cry like an infant over the thought that I may not see
you again. I wish I had something to remember you by, and I desire
that you should go to Hunt and Roskell and get yourself a signet
ring which you must always wear... have your initials engraved
The Millais ring, that Holman Hunt ordered
and wore until his death in 1910, was among 11 lots of jewellery
from the Holman Hunt family sold at
Bonhams Knightsbridge on October 9.
The simple circular sardonyx it houses is
engraved with the initials WHH combined with
Inverted, the monogram turns into the
letters PB for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood the two men had
founded in 1848.
Known from a number of publications,
including the 1989 book Artists' Jewellery: Pre-Raphaelite to
Arts & Crafts by Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey Munn,
this is an incredibly evocative piece and one that no one could
seriously have hoped to buy close to its estimate of £1000-1500.
Spirited competition saw it sell for 30 times the low estimate.
An oval shell cameo carved with Cupid and
framed within a textured rope-twist gold border had been a gift
from Holman Hunt to his first wife Fanny Waugh (it was probably
purchased from Guiliano).
It features twice in the artist's work: in
a portrait of Fanny painted shortly after she died in childbirth in
1866 that is now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, and again in
the 1868 picture The Birthday that depicts her
younger sister Edith.
It was during the sittings for this
painting that Edith revealed her love for Hunt - a scandalous match
that saw the pair shunned by friends and family when they married
in Switzerland in 1875 (a union prohibited under British law).
In Diana Holman Hunt's 1960 memoir titled
My Grandmothers and I, she recalls Edith (a widow of two
decades) telling her as a child: "This cameo brooch was my
sister's. Holman gave it to her on her their marriage and when she
died it came to me."
The inscription to the reverse reads
Fanny and Holman to Edith I.M. 20 Dec 1866. Again
estimated at £1000-1500, this time the hammer price was