A prominent member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Arthur Hughes was both a painter and illustrator of significance. While he remains best known for his delicately poetic paintings of the 1850s and 60s, he eventually won more fame in his lifetime as an illustrator, with ‘his simple command of line and sometimes startling imagination’ (Stephen Wildman, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He was well known for his gentle spirit, William Michael Rossetti, the chronicler of Pre-Raphaelitism, describing him as having ‘the sweetest and most ingenuous nature of all’ (Some Reminiscences, London: Brown, Langham, 1906, vol 1, page 147).
Arthur Hughes was born in London on 27 January 1832, probably at 7 Dover Street, Mayfair, the third son of the hotel-keeper, Edward Hughes, and his wife Amy (née Knight).
He was educated at Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School, in Castle Street, Long Acre, where he showed such ability in drawing that, in 1846, at the age of 14, he was allowed to enter the Government School of Design at Somerset House, where he studied under Alfred Stevens. From December 1847, he studied at the Royal Academy Schools, and two years later both won a silver medal for drawing from the antique and exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
In 1850, Hughes found inspiration in the Pre-Raphaelite magazine, The Germ, which was circulated by his fellow student, the Scottish sculptor, Alexander Munro. In the following year, Munro introduced him to William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, both key members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and their associate, Ford Madox Brown.
Then, in 1852, he met John Everett Millais at the varnishing day of the Royal Academy, where, like Millais, he was exhibiting a painting of Ophelia (Manchester Art Gallery). In 1853, he served as the model for the Royalist in Millais’s The Proscribed Royalist, 1651. His early exhibits were admired by the Pre-Raphaelites and, encouraged by them, he worked increasingly in their manner and entered their social circle. Having shared rooms and a studio with Munro at 6 Upper Belgrave Place, Pimlico, since 1852, Hughes was joined by his wife, Tryphena (née Foord), following their marriage in 1855 in Maidstone, Kent (Tryphena’s home town).
In 1855, Hughes made a successful debut as an illustrator, providing seven of the nine designs for William Allingham’s volume of poetry, The Music Master (with Millais and Rossetti contributing the others). By the end of the decade, he was publishing illustrations regularly in periodicals, while confirming his reputation as a painter of sensitively conceived and exquisitely executed oils. The most famous of these is April Love (1855-56, Tate), which was praised by the critic, John Ruskin, and acquired by the rising Pre-Raphaelite artist, designer and writer, William Morris. It was one of the six paintings that he contributed to the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition’ held at 4 Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, in 1857. In addition to easel paintings, he collaborated, in 1857, with Morris, Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, among others, on murals of Arthurian subjects for the library of the Oxford Union. He was also a member of the Hogarth Club, which was founded by the Pre-Raphaelites and was active during the years 1858-61.
Hughes’s eldest son and daughter, Arthur and Amy, were born in 1856 and 1857, and in 1858 he and his growing family moved to Maidstone. Following the birth of Agnes in 1859, they moved to Staines, in Middlesex, in 1860. While there, Hughes’s wife gave birth to twins, though only one, named Emily, survived into adulthood. They returned to London in 1863, and settled at 12 Oberstein Road, Wandsworth, a last child, Godfrey being born in 1865. In 1865, the family moved again, to Windsor Lodge, Putney, and in 1869, when finances became difficult, to 2 Finborough Road, West Brompton. They were joined there by the painter, Albert Goodwin, who worked for a while as Hughes’s studio assistant.
During these years, Hughes gained some significant new patrons, including the Brighton wine merchant, John Hamilton Trist, whose purchase of two paintings financed a major trip abroad, to Venice in 1863, in the company of his old friend, Alexander Munro. By then, he had developed new friendships with two writers of fantasy, Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald, and had produced the illustrations for MacDonald’s first collection of fairy tales, Dealings with the Fairies, which would be published in 1867. This established an important professional relationship that not only included collaborations on two major works, At the Back of the North Wind (1868-70) and The Princess and the Goblin (1870-71) (both of which first appeared in Good Words for the Young), but would, in time, extend to Hughes illustrating similar fantasies by George’s son, Greville, and his daughter Lilia’s Babies’ Classics (1903-4). His other notable illustrative projects include Alfred Tennyson’s Enoch Arden (1866), Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days (1869, in collaboration with Sidney Prior Hall) and Christina Rossetti’s Sing Song (1871).
Though more successful as an illustrator than a painter in his later career, Hughes still produced such major works as The Lady of Shalott and The Convent Boat, both painted in or around 1873. The sale of these to John Hamilton Trist’s brother, George, enabled him to visit Brittany in 1874. In 1875, he inherited – from his godmother – Wandle Bank, a Georgian house in Wallington, Surrey, and three years later this became the family home.
Through 1880s and 1890s, Hughes continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy, and at the Grosvenor Gallery (founded in 1877) and the New Gallery (founded in 1888), both of which were founded to promote Aestheticism and other progressive trends less favoured by the Academy. Achievements of this period included The Heavenly Stair (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth), which he exhibited at the RA in 1888.
In order to supplement his income, Hughes replaced the Scottish painter and poet, William Bell Scott, in 1886 on the Examination Committee of the national School of Art system, based in South Kensington. Like Hughes, Scott was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and, by this time, they had become good friends. In September 1886, Hughes made the first of several recorded visits to Penkill Castle, Ayrshire, to stay with Scott and the castle’s owner, Alice Boyd, with whom Scott was involved in a ménage-à-trois. He also maintained an illuminating correspondence with both Scott and Boyd, which continued with Boyd alone after Scott’s death in 1890.
In 1891, the upkeep of Wandle Bank proved too much for Hughes, and, though he retained the property, he moved to what would be his final home at East Side House on Kew Green. He continued to travel within Britain, and made several painting trips to the West Country, in the company of his sons, Arthur and Godfrey, sometimes staying with Albert Goodwin in Ilfracombe. Many of the results of these trips were shown in a solo show, ‘Byways of Cornwall’, held at the Fine Art Society in the summer of 1900. A more general solo was mounted four years later, in 1904, at the Rembrandt Gallery. Hughes exhibited at the Royal Academy for the last time in 1908.
Among Hughes’s last significant achievements were his illustrations to a new edition – by Greville MacDonald – of George MacDonald’s Phantastes (1905), and to three books by Greville MacDonald himself: The Magic Crook (1911), Trystie’s Quest (1912) and Jack and Jill (1913).
Awarded a civil list pension in 1912, Hughes died at home at Kew Green three years later on 22 December 1915. A memorial show was held at Walker’s Galleries in 1916 (with a catalogue introduced by Albert Goodwin), while a sale of his work took place at Christie’s on 21 November 1921.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum, Bruce Castle Museum and Tate; and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford),
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Gunby Hall (National Trust, Lincolnshire).
William E Fredeman, ‘A Pre-Raphaelite Gazette: The Penkill Letter of Arthur Hughes to William Bell Scott and Alice Boyd’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 1967, vol 49, no 2, pages 323-363; and vol 50, no 1, pages 34-83;
Maroussia Oakley, The Book & Periodical Illustrations of Arthur Hughes, Pinner: Private Libraries Association/New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2016;
Leonard Roberts and Stephen Wildman, Arthur Hughes: His Life and Works: A Catalogue Raisonné, Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1997;
Julian Treuherz, ‘Hughes, Arthur (b London, Jan 27, 1832; d Kew Green, London, Dec 22, 1915), Grove Art Online, 2003, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T039317;
Stephen Wildman, ‘Hughes, Arthur (1832-1915)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34040