MASTER OF HIS DOMAIN
Signed l.r. W Hunt
Watercolour with bodycolour
16 x 21 cm
William Henry Hunt was born to a working class family in London's Covent Garden. As a result of being born with deformed legs and stunted growth, his parents encouraged him to pursue an artistic career. He was apprenticed to John Varley in c.1804, at the same time as John Linnell and William Mulready, the former of whom he became a close friend of and a sketching partner on a number of tours in Southern England (including Hunt's first trip to Hastings in 1809).
He was briefly at the RA Schools for only a short time between 1808-1809, but during this time he was one of the pupils selected to assist in the redecoration of the Drury Lane Theatre following a fire there. His earliest important private patrons were the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Essex, who respectively commissioned drawings of the staterooms at Chatsworth and Cassiobury. It was at the latter place that he met Dr Monro, who then employed him in his informal academy.
By 1815, Hunt had established himself as an independent architectural and landscape painter. For the first decade of this, his adult professional life, he worked in the style of the previous century's topographical artists, in pen and wash. He first exhibited with the Society of Painters in Water Colours when it was known as the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours, became an associate in 1824, and a full member two years later. In 1822, he moved to 36 Brownlow Street, Drury Lane, and in 1825 to 6 Marchmont Street, Brunswick Square. For a number of years he spent winters in Hastings. He appears not to have travelled much further than the Southern counties and their surrounding area.
Hunt specialised in genre scenes of peasants and in particular, children, as well as the aforementioned still lives. His works were not only commercially very succesful but his approach to picture making proved very popular with both oil and watercolour painters. His reputation and works gained substantial publicity through the advocacy of John Ruskin. Hunt gave Ruskin lessons between 1854 and 1861, and in turn Ruskin recommended study of his work in The Elements of Drawing (1857) and Notes on Prout and Hunt (1879). In the 1850s, Hunt's career took on an international dimension, and he was awarded a certificate of merit at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. He also became an honorary member of the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in the following year. Because of the Ruskinian advocacy, as well as an article in The Crayon in 1860 praising his still lives, Hunt also won an artistic following among the 'American pre-Raphaelites' (1).
(1) William H. Gerdts, The Influence of Ruskin and Pre-Raphaelitism on American, The American Art Journal , Autumn, 1969, Vol. 1, No. 2 , pp.80-97