The Measure for the Wedding Ring, 1855. Oil on canvas, 35 ½ x 26 ½ inches (90.1 x 67.3 cm). Private collection of Lord Lloyd Webber.
This is Halliday‘s most important Pre-Raphaelite painting and it was strongly influenced by Millais, who likely assisted him in the painting of the background. Like many of Millais’s works at this time it features a two-figured composition of a man and woman in love. The foreground and background of this painting are both treated in meticulous detail. AsWilliam Holman Hunt recalled in his book on Pre-Raphaelitism: “Halliday, who had been originally nothing but an earnest amateur, had been taken in hand by Millais, and under his guidance the picture Measuring for the Wedding Ring had been finished at Winchelsea” (86). This painting was greatly admired by the genre painter William Powell Frith: “So well did he succeed in picture-making that he once completed an oil-painting of two lovers sitting under a ruined abbey window, habited in contemporary costume, the gentleman intent on taking the size of the lady’s marriage-finger. I remember this picture being exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856; I thought highly of it, and looked, but in vain, for a repetition of a success so complete as to cause the purchase of the picture by a well-known dealer [Gambart], who had an engraving made from it, the print meeting with extensive popularity” (167)
Holman Hunt noted about this picture: “To console Gambart for his disappointment at the unpopularity of my picture [The Scapegoat], I introduced him to Halliday and his picture of ‘Measuring for the Wedding Ring’, which he at once purchased. It was destined to achieve a great popularity; indeed, an English engraving and a German piracy gave it a transient European reputation” (108).
When the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856, however, the critic for The Art Journal gave it a disparaging review:
This is a so-called pre-Raffaellite [sic] work containing two figures, those of lovers seated on a garden-bench within the ruins of an ancient abbey. The lady has been working, and the gentleman reading poetry, but he is now measuring her finger for the ring. It appears to be one of the first errors of pre-Raffaellite Art to reject the beautiful in feature and expression. The lady appears to have an obliquity of vision, and the contour of her face is anything but agreeable. The dress of both figures is severely accurate, but the ruins by no means resemble such a reality. [New Series 2 (1856): 173]
The critic for The Spectator was more complimentary. “Mr. Halliday’s picture, ‘The Measure for the Wedding Ring,’ explains its subject by its title, and stands in little need of explanation at all. Two lovers, persons of refined society, have paid a visit to an old feudal ruin, and the suitor is taking the measure of his lady’s finger. There is a manly English character about him, and much tender confidence in her, marred somewhat by too ‘full-blown’ a character of face. The painting is too thin, and the general treatment has a matter-of-fact tendency; but the study and resolute truth-telling which it displays are the sure discipline for a young painter” (Spectator, 29 (May 31, 1856): 591).
Frith, William Powell. John Leech, His Life and Work. 2 Vols. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1891.
Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2 Vols. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd., 1905.
Last modified 20 February 2022