Edith Holman Hunt was the artist’s second wife, the sister of his first wife Fanny. It was a union prohibited under British law, and the couple had been forced to marry on the Continent.
The drawing is a subtle psychological likeness of Edith and may be seen as an independent portrait. However, the pose is almost identical to that of the Virgin Mary in Hunt’s large painting The Triumph of the Innocents of 1883–4 (N03334), and was probably intended as a study for this work. Of all the head studies the artist made in relation to the composition, this drawing approximates most to the head in the finished painting. Tate also has in its collection a second, rather more sketchy, study of the Virgin for the first version of this painting in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, Study for the Christ Child in the Virgin's Arms for ‘The Triumph of the Innocents’ (first version), 1876 (T03321).
Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, London 2006, no.D347, p.172.
Mary Bennett, Artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle: The First Generation. Catalogue of Works in the Walker Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery and Sudley Art Gallery, London 1988, p.96.