The Awakening Conscience, William Holman Hunt
Inkjet on watercolour paper
85 x 64 cm
My first exposure to Pre-Raphaelite painting, a British Victorian art movement that embraced a moral narrative and a medieval, early renaissance aesthetic, provoked both my incomprehension and fascination. This happened in the early 1970’s when the art world was still infatuated with modernist high art ideals and, contrarily, when the hippie movement discovered the Victorian kitsch aesthetic. Pre-Raphaelite paintings were typically busy pictorially and overloaded with symbolism that had made sense in the Victorian era, but these were the sort of values that adherents of modernism came to regard as an aberration in the development of art -- and as embarrassingly bad.
William Holman Hunt’s 1853 painting, The Awakening Conscience -- a great example of the Pre-Raphaelite sensibility -- depicts a mistress who has glimpsed her possible future as a fallen woman, and in a moment of seeing the light, literally, has chosen to escape her fate. It was this antiquated morality, which is particularly quaint in our age of Internet hook-ups, that attracted me to the idea of re-imagining this rather beguiling art work.
The plethora of symbolism in Holman Hunt’s painting has been stripped down to the rather obvious cat toying with its captive bird and the original Victorian lyric sheet on the piano, which has been replaced by the popular 1960's (and 1980’s) hit, Tainted Love. Hunt's fussily gauche Victorian interior now sports 1970’s wallpaper of dubious taste and the mirror has become oval shaped, which helped sharpen the stripped back composition. The mistress, in keeping with our more permissive times is, naturally, more scantily clothed.
As a personal touch, the sunlight drenched garden seen in the mirror, is one where I had spent some of my childhood years.
The Awakening Conscience: Wikipedia