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William Morris Hunt – great American painter

11 November 2011

“Follow your own individual taste, and somebody will appreciate it.” (William Morris Hunt) Hunt, William Morris, (March 31, 1824 – September 8, 1879), American painter, was born at Brattleboro, Vermont. Hunt attended Harvard but withdrew. His mother decided to give him an opportunity to study the arts in the best academies in Europe. He studied in Düsseldorf and Paris.

He established art schools at Newport, Rhode Island, Brattleboro, Vermont, Faial Island in the Azores, and finally at Boston, where he introduced the ideals and methods of the Barbizon school. Hunt was among the biggest proponents of the Barbizon school in America. One interesting fact is that Hunt is considered to be the first American master to admit female students into his classes. In 1855 Hunt was married in Paris to Louise Dumaresq Perkins. They had five children.

His earliest works were usually figure pieces; he then painted portraits. In 1878, the year before his death, Hunt turned to landscapes. Hunt painted a series of lovely views of Niagara Falls. His later works also include the “Bathers” and “The Allegories” for the Senate chamber of the State Capitol at Albany, New York.

Among his best-known paintings are Girl at a Fountain, and a landscape (Metropolitan Mus.); a portrait of Chief Justice Shaw (courthouse, Salem, Mass.); and The Flight of Night (Pennsylvania Acad. of the Fine Arts). Hunt was a popular portrait painter. From 1850 to 1877 he was Boston’s leading portrait and landscape painter. Among his best paintings of this genre are those of William M. Evarts, Mrs Charles Francis Adams, the Rev. James Freeman Clarke, Senator Charles Sumner, William H. Gardner, and Judge Horace Gray. Unfortunately, many of Hunt’s paintings and sketches were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.

J. F. Millet had a lasting influence on Hunt’s style and manner of painting. After Millet’s death, Hunt went to the New Hampshire shore to recover from a depression. Despite health problems, he continued to create, and was working on his last sketch three days before his death in 1879. William Morris Hunt was buried beside other family members at Weathersfield, Vermont. The Library of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is named in honor of the great painter William Morris Hunt.

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