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William Morris Hunt
American
(1824-1879)

Mason Hunter
Poplar Trees, oil on canvas, 16.5" x 7.5" (image), 24.5" x 15.5" framed, signed lower left
A seminal figure in American art history, William Morris Hunt’s  importance as an artist is equaled by his importance as a teacher and a propagator of the French style in the United States.  Hunt was born in Brattleboro, Vermont to a prominent Vermont family.  He entered Harvard in 1840 but found he had little taste for scholarly pursuits and left without taking a degree.  Upon the death of his father, he went to Europe with his mother, journeying to Rome, where he was influenced by Emmanuel Leutze and Henry Kirk Browne, and then to Dusseldorf.  It was in France, however, that he found his artistic personality.  For nearly six years, Hunt studied in Paris under painter Thomas Couture and sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye.  But the major influence upon his style was that of Jean-Francoise Millet and his colleagues at Barbizon.  Hunt painted occasionally with Millet from 1852 to 1856, adopting his principles and purchasing many of Millet’s works.

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.

 


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