William Huggins

(13 May 1820 - 25 February 1884)

Born in Liverpool, his parents were Samuel and Elizabeth. He received his first instruction in drawing at the Liverpool Mechanics' Institution. He drew from life using the classes at the Academy of Arts or by sketching the animals in Liverpool's zoo. Huggins is compared to George Stubbs who was another artist from Liverpool. Huggins was magnanimous in acknowledging Stubbs' influence and this contrasts with a later comparison that was made with Landseer where Huggins felt insulted. Huggins pictures of exotic animals were much admired but they are noted for lack of background as Huggins never saw them in their own habitat. He is known for keeping his house full of pets.

In 1845 Huggins changed his themes away from animals and chickens. His paintings were based on literary themes from Milton, Shelley and Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Moore's "Enchantress and Nourmahal".

Huggins first exhibited "Androcles and the lion" at the Royal Academy and made successful entries from 1846 until he was in his seventies. In addition he showed his paintings at most of the major cities in Great Britain. He may have been influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites who also had exhibitions there. He became a full member of the Liverpool Academy in 1850 (resigning in 1856), but never became an RA (Royal Academician).

He enjoyed visiting Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie, an animal circus, and the Liverpool Zoological Gardens.

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Self-portrait, chickens 1858

In 1861, Huggins moved to Chester where he lived with his brother, Samuel until 1865. Huggins work at this time moved from animals to buildings (his brother, Samuel was a notable architectural writer). After leaving his brother, he painted the "Stones of Chester, or Ruins of St. John's" (1874) and the "Salmon Trap on the Dee". He moved to Betws-y-Coed in 1876, so that he could paint landscapes. One painting that resulted was, "The Fairy Glen" which was exhibited in Liverpool in 1877.

Huggins eventually moved from Wales and settled in and died in the Cheshire village of Christleton, just a year before his brother, Samuel. The brothers were buried in St James' Church, Christleton, and the headstone of their grave is a Grade II listed building [A listed building, in the United Kingdom, is a building that has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest].

Huggins' horses, cattle, and poultry pictures were his best and most characteristic work, good in drawing, and remarkable for brilliance of colour. Huggins' preferred medium was painting on white millboard from pencil outlines.

Huggins' portraits include one of the Master of the Holcombe Hunt, his brother Samuel, and himself. He included his wife in "Aerial combat, the fight between the Eagle and the Serpent" which he painted in his literary phase and which illustrated Shelley's Revolt of Islam. Huggins has nearly 60 paintings in public collections in the United Kingdom.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900; English Wikipedia; Wikimedia Commons, (the free media repository) content related to William Huggins (animal artist).


• A Jaguar (1838). Signed and dated 'W.Huggins 1838' (lower right) and inscribed 'Jaguar Male' (on the reverse).
• Adam's Vision of the Death of Abel; reclining figure in the composition is his wife. He won a prize and successfully entered work to be shown at the Liverpool Academy of Arts whilst fifteen years old.
• Androcles and the Lion, Aesop's fable (1841).
• Bideston Farmhouse (1850). Bideston Farmhouse was painted at the turning point in Huggins' career for not only was 1850 the year in which he was elected a full member of the Liverpool Academy, but that same year the London Pre-Raphaelites first exhibited in Liverpool. It was the influence of Sir John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown that encouraged William Huggins to paint in transparent glazes over a white ground. Bideston Farmhouse, an intimate study of a farmyard flooded with sunlight, is an early example of his use of glazes, leaning toward Pre-Raphaelites techniques whilst imbued with a traditional quality of observation reminiscent of John Sell Cotman.
• Fowl and Pigeons (1851).
• Una and the Lion
• Tried Friends (1852), purchased by the Liverpool corporation, illustrates his use of transparent glazes over a white ground.
• Poultry in a landscape (1856).
• Aerial combat, the fight between the Eagle and the Serpent, in which he included his wife.
• Cattle in the Dee (1868).
• Yorkshire Terrier 1868).
• Barn Door Fowl (Rhode Island Reds) (1860). Exhibited at Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Grand Loan Exhibition of Pictures, 1886.
• Stormcock (1865). Bay hunter standing in a landscape beside a barn, Attributed to William Huggins. Inscribed on a later label verso together with the date 1865.
• A Horse in the Stable (1866). The most famous sporting artist in the world was Liverpool's son, George Stubbs. Although William Huggins did paint landscapes and portraits, his great love was animal painting and he followed in the master's footsteps. He spent many hours at the Zoological Gardens studying and drawing different animals, followed Wombwell's Menagerie (a travelling animal circus) around parts of England and kept a house full of pets. Horse portraits by Huggins are extremely rare.
• Salmon Trap on the Dee [Old Mill and Salmon Trap on the Dee, Chester] (1862).
• Enchantress and Nourmahal from Lalla Rookh (Tulip Face).
• The Fairy Glen (1877); exhibited in Liverpool.
• Portrait of a Newfoundland (1869).
• Chester, the cathedral and the city (1862). He painted Chester Cathedral which his brother Samuel was to go on to defend when it was to be restored.
• Stones of Chester, or Ruins of St. John's (1874). Huggins' painting shows the ruins of the east end of St John's church in Chester, built circa 1075. The building fell into disrepair after the Reformation but was maintained by the parish, and in the 19th Century the body of the church was restored. Huggins' atmospheric image captures the site's eerie beauty. Birds flit through the ruins, which remain a fine example of medieval architecture.
• Sleeping Leopard [Our Leopard]. [Watercolour and gouache, Signed, dated 1867] depicted sleeping in a beautifully idealised sylvan environment, was probably, in reality, housed in a small cage - a point that would not have been lost on the animal-loving Huggins.
• He who dares.

• Samuel Huggins, his brother.
• Mr. T. Gorton, master of the Holcombe Hunt, with a leash of hounds.
• Portrait of a boy (1869).
• Himself.
• His wife.

WILLIAM HUGGINS, (1820–1884), animal-painter, was born in Liverpool in 1820. Samuel Huggins [q.v.] was an elder brother. William received his first instruction in drawing at the Mechanics' Institution, afterwards the Liverpool Institute, and now the government school of art, where at the age of fifteen he gained a prize for a design, 'Adam's Vision of the Death of Abel.' He also made many studies from the animals at the Liverpool zoological gardens, and was a student at the life class of the old Liverpool academy, of which he became a full member. One of the best-known of his early works was 'Fight between the Eagle and the Serpent,' to illustrate a passage from Shelley's Revolt of Islam. The reclining figure in the composition is his wife. Disappointed at the reception of his animal pictures, he painted several subjects from Milton, Una and the Lion, from Spenser's Faerie Queene, "Enchantress and Nourmahal" from Moore's Lalla Rookh, etc.

In 1861, Huggins removed to Chester, and during his residence there painted many views of the cathedral and the city, the "Stones of Chester, or Ruins of St. John's," "Salmon Trap on the Dee," etc. He left Chester in 1876 for Bettws-y-Coed, North Wales, with the purpose of studying landscape; one of the results was "The Fairy Glen," exhibited at the Liverpool Exhibition 1877, but he again returned to Chester, and died at Christleton, near that city, 25 Feb. 1884.

Huggins was a constant exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1846 till within a few years of his death, and at the exhibitions at Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. His horses, cattle, and poultry pictures were his best and most characteristic work, good in drawing, and remarkable for brilliance of colour; "Tried Friends," purchased by the Liverpool corporation, well illustrates these qualities. Few artists have been more versatile; he not only drew portraits in chalk of many of his friends, but painted some large equestrian portraits in oil. An excellent example is the portrait of "Mr.T. Gorton, master of the Holcombe Hunt, with a leash of hounds." Among his portraits is one of himself (1841), and another of his elder brother, Samuel Huggins.

Wikisource; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 28, by Albert Nicholson; Liverpool Mercury, 28 February 1884.

William Huggins was perhaps the greatest master of animal portraiture in the Victorian era, a technical innovator in painting technique and a man with a surprisingly modern sensibility towards the animals he sensitively and accurately depicted.

Huggins was a versatile and creative man with many interests, ranging from architecture - he was instrumental in setting up the S.P.A.B. (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) - to playing the guitar and collecting and decoration of china.

His devotion to the study of animals was intense. His studies were made from life - in farmyards and in the Liverpool Zoo. At one point, he even took to following a travelling menagerie from town to town in order to observe and draw the animals.

Headstone: dated 1884. Pointed arched pink sandstone slab with a carved posy of flowers above the inscription. Extracts of this inscription read: WILLIAM HUGGINS, an Historic and Animal Painter of acknowledged eminence. A just and compassionate man who would neither tread on a worm or cringe to an emperor. The stone also carries a memorial to Samuel, his brother (an architectural historian) and Hannah, his sister. William Huggins lived for the later part of his life at Rock House, Christleton (q.v.) where it is reported he kept wild animals in the cellars, to draw from life. Christleton C.P. Pepper Street (North Side); District: Cheshire West and Chester Parish; Headstone of William Huggins, Churchyard of St.James.

471. "Fowl and Pigeons." (W. Huggins) There is excellent painting in pieces of this study; but as a whole it is incomplete, the background being wrong, and the parts out of harmony. The painter ought to work with the sternest self-denial, from corner to corner of his picture, completing everything from nature, near or distant, to the best of his power. The Works of John Ruskin, Volume 14


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