1820 – 1884
A Leopard, seated
William Huggins was born in Liverpool in 1820 and is not to be confused with the earlier maritime painter, William John Huggins (1781-1845). Huggins shared many characteristics with George Stubbs, revealing a precocious talent for drawing and painting. Aged only 15, he won a prize at the Liverpool Mechanics Institute where he studied before entering the Liverpool Academy Schools with Richard Ansdell in 1835. Huggins spent much time at the Zoological Gardens in Liverpool studying the animals as well as following Wombwell's Menagerie from place to place. It wasn't until 1850, however, that he was to become a full member of the Liverpool Academy.
Like Stubbs who, much to his own annoyance, was never able to rid himself of the label 'horse painter', Huggins was unable to escape from the description 'animal painter', despite his evident dislike of it.
In the first half of the 19th Century, as in the 18th Century, the hierarchy of painting was comparatively rigid and being an animal painter did not carry as much weight as being either a portrait or landscape painter. However, in Liverpool there was only a limited market for history painting during that period, and, as elsewhere in the provinces, portraits, landscapes and animal paintings were popular instead. Ben Marshall (1768-1835) a Leicestershire painter, once said "I discover many a man who would pay me 50 guineas for painting his horse who thinks 10 guineas is too much for painting his wife".
Huggins' technique is very particular to him as he employed a very distinctive glazing of colours on his prepared boards and canvases. Typically he used a white millboard as the ground for his transparent glazes.
His knowledge of animal anatomy was profound. E. Rimbault Dibdin in his article on Liverpool-born animal painters (Art Journal, 1904) praised him as a master: "Both as an executant in paint, and as a consummate expert in knowledge of animal form and character, Huggins was qualified to out-distance both Landseer and Ansdell". It was only his shy and slightly eccentric character that stopped him from doing so.
With Oscar and Peter Johnson Limited, London;
Property of The late Prince S.A. Radziwill;
Sale Christie's London, 29 July 1977, lot 175
London, Oscar and Peter Johnson Limited, 1965, no. 13.