Upon his return to the U.S. in 1855, Hunt began espousing the Barbizon style in American art circles and opened an art school in Newport, R.I. Two of his students in Newport were the brothers William and Henry James. In 1862, the artist moved to Boston and married into wealth and society. In Boston, Hunt achieved prominence as a portrait painter and moved in a circle of intellectuals that included Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell. His teachings, particularly as set forth in 1875 in his “Talks on Art,” were an important influence upon other important American painters, including Childe Hassam, John Enneking, and Winslow Homer. In 1879, Hunt went to visit Cecilia Thaxter at the artists’ community of Appledore on the Isle of Shoals, New Hampshire, and drowned. It was thought by some that his death was a suicide.
Hunt’s work can be found in many museums in Europe and America, including the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boston Museum, the Boston Atheneum, the Worcester Museum, the Detroit Institute, and the Phillips Academy.