Alfred William Hunt

(15 November 1830 – 3 May 1896)

Landscape painter, born at Liverpool, the seventh child, and the only son who survived infancy, of the painter Andrew Hunt [q. v.], by his marriage with Sarah Sanderson. He was educated at the Liverpool collegiate school, and gained a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1848. In 1851 he won the Newdigate prize for English verse, the subject being 'Nineveh,' and he graduated B.A. in 1852. In 1853 he was elected to a fellowship at his college, which he resigned on his marriage in 1861. In 1882 the college paid him the compliment of electing him an honorary fellow.

He had painted since the age of eight under his father's instruction, and had spent his vacations during his school and college days in sketching from nature in Scotland, Cumberland, Wales, and Devonshire, and in 1850, on the Rhine. He had exhibited drawings at a very early age at the Liverpool Academy, of which he became a member in 1850, and later at the Portland Gallery in London.

At Oxford he was deeply impressed by the writings of John Ruskin and by the art of Turner. James Wyatt, the well-known print-seller in the High Street, purchased his drawings, though not on a liberal scale of remuneration, and encouraged him to adopt painting as a profession. Hunt hesitated for a time between an academic and an artistic career. He was a good scholar, a clear and ready speaker, and took much interest in politics as well as literature; but he was first and foremost an artist, and Wyatt turned the scale in 1854 by giving him a commission to go to Wales and paint as much as he could. In that year he exhibited a picture, 'Wastdale Head from Styhead Pass, Cumberland,' at the Royal Academy, and two years later a small oil-painting by him, 'Llyn Idwal, Carnarvonshire,' was hung on the line. It was much praised by Ruskin, and was followed by other landscapes. These, however, were too much in the pre-Raphaelite manner to find favour with the hanging committee. In his elaborate work, 'The Track of an Old-World Glacier,' was refused. Ruskin protested vehemently in his notes on the Academy against the treatment of Hunt, but his combative championship did the painter little good in official circles. Hunt was at this time in close touch with the pre-Raphaelites, though not a member of the brotherhood, and he was one of the original members of the Hogarth Club.

He exhibited at the Academy each year from 1859 to 1862, but his pictures were badly hung, and after that time persistently refused, till he ceased to send them in. This discouragement caused him almost to abandon oil-painting, though he was no less gifted in the use of oils than in that of water-colours. In 1862 he was unanimously elected an associate of the Old Water-colour Society, to which he became a regular contributor. He was elected a full member in 1864. For about seven years he worked in water-colours only, but in 1870, he again exhibited an oil-painting at the Royal Academy, and continued to do so occasionally till within a few years of his death.

His contributions amounted in all to thirty-seven. At the gallery in Pall Mall East he exhibited more than three hundred water-colours, and these represent only a small proportion of his life's work, for he was a rapid though a very careful worker. He devoted much time and energy to the service of the Royal Water-colour Society, as it has been called since 1881; this advance and the prosperity which the society has enjoyed in recent years were due in some measure to Hunt's exertions. He was a trustee of the society from 1879, onwards, and acted as deputy-president in 1888. He was largely instrumental in organising the Art Club, for social meetings and temporary loan exhibitions, in connection with the society, which was formed in 1883.

In 1865, he came to London and took a house, 1 Tor Villas (afterwards called 10 Tor Gardens), Campden Hill, Kensington, which had been occupied previously by Mr. James Clarke Hook and Mr. Holman Hunt. This was his residence during the remainder of his life. A fine and representative loan collection of his works was exhibited at the private gallery of the Burlington Fine Arts Club. Exhibitions had been held in his lifetime at the Grosvenor Gallery and in the rooms of the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street (1884).

On 16 Nov. 1861 Hunt married Margaret, second daughter of James Raine [q. v.]. Mrs. Hunt, was the authoress of several novels. Hunt painted much at Durham, on the Tees, and at Whitby and other places on the north-east coast of England, but also on the Thames (Sonning, Pangbourne, Windsor, etc.), in Scotland and Wales, in Switzerland, on the Rhine and Moselle, and in Italy, Sicily, and Greece, during a tour of nine months in 1869-70. He visited America and painted the 'Falls of Niagara' in a season of exceptional drought. He was a devoted disciple, but by no means a mere imitator, of Turner. Like Turner, he was a painter of the sky, of cloud, sunshine, and mist. He used watercolour with an exquisite purity and delicacy, and was no less diligent in the exact study of nature than in acquiring mastery over the technicalities of his art. He took a very high view of the function of the artist, and had a deep and reverent love for the beauty of the world as a manifestation of the divine. His sincere and modest work, inspired by an aim so spiritual, did not show to advantage in a mixed exhibition, and failed to attract the attention it deserved, especially at the Academy; but his reputation with collectors and good judges of art stands high. Most of his pictures are in private hands; 'Windsor Castle' (1889) is in the Tate Gallery, and 'Working Late' (exhibited in 1873) is in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

[The Times, 5 May 1896; Daily Graphic, 7 May 1896; Illustrated London News, 16 May 1896, with portrait ; Athenaeum, 9 May 1896; Catalogue of Exhibition at Burlington Fine Arts Club, with introduction by Cosmo Monkhouse; other exhibition catalogues; Graves's Dict. of Artists.] div

Landscape painter in oil and water-colour (chiefly the latter), was born in Bold Street, Liverpool. His father, Andrew Hunt, was a landscape painter who came from Warwick to Liverpool, where he successfully combined painting with a large practice as a teacher, and also dealt in artists' materials. As a painter he had a good sense of the picturesque and considerable technical accomplishment. He is represented in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, by his painting in oil, 'The North Shore, or Estuary of the Mersey.' All his children, with one exception, were made proficient in drawing and painting. On at least one occasion the Exhibition of the Liverpool Academy (1840) had as contributors Miss Hunt, Miss S. J. Hunt, and Miss E. Hunt, as well as their father. Miss Maria Hunt had considerable vogue as a fruit and flower painter, and exhibited four times at the Royal Academy from 1855 to 1866.

Alfred, the only surviving son, was educated at the Liverpool College, whence he went in 1848, with a brilliant school record and a scholarship, to Corpus Christi, Oxford. In 1851, he won the Newdigate prize with a poem on 'Nineveh,' and in the following year he took his degree, with second-class honours in classics. In the meantime art had not been neglected. He always had a strong leaning towards art, and from a lad had loved not only to gaze at pictures but to copy them. A very capable original drawing by Hunt, "Killamey,' is dated 1845. While in Liverpool he worked hard at the Life Classes of the Academy of Arts of which his father was a member. In 1850, he also became a member, and while at Oxford the student's home letters were cleverly illustrated with pen-and-ink sketches. In 1853, Hunt was made a fellow of his college, but Art had evidently by this time claimed him as her own, for he failed to take orders, as was customary in such cases, and in 1854, he first made an appearance at the Royal Academy with ' Wastdale Head from Styhead Pass.' His address was then 31, Oxford Street, Liverpool, his father's house. He had previously exhibited at Liverpool and at the Portland Gallery. He exhibited again at the Royal Academy in 1856, 1857, 1859, 1860, 1861 and 1862, but not again until 1870, after which he was a regular exhibitor until 1888.

His total contributions to the Royal Academy Exhibitions numbered 37. His total exhibits in London, according to Graves, numbered 395, of which 334 were shown at the Old Water-Colonr Society's Exhibitions. When Hunt had decided upon his profession he set about the study of art with characteristic thoroughness, and worked industriously both in this country and in France. In 1861, Hunt married a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Raine, Librarian to the Dean and Chapter of Durham, and a noted antiquary. He removed to London, where in 1862, his address was 32, Sussex Place, Kensington, and thenceforward he had little connection with the art of his native city, where, however, he had probably acquired that strong bias towards Pre-Raphaelite methods which he retained through life.

'The Stream from Llyn Idwal,' hung on the line at the Royal Academy in 1856, a study of rocky foreground quite exceptional in its patient and successful observation of natural form and colour, was essentially Pre-Raphaelite. Ruskin characterized it as the best landscape he had seen in the Exhibition for many a day -- uniting most subtle finish and watclifulness of nature with real and rare power of composition; with much more in the same strain. Possibly this did Hunt no good with the Academicians, for his three pictures in the following year were ill hung, and the case was doubtless made worse by Ruskin's unsparing censure of the hangers. "There is nothing else like it this year," he wrote of 'When the Leaves begin to turn.' In 1858, Hunt either did not send or was rejected. In 1862, he joined the (Royal) Society of Painters in Water-Colours as an Associate, and in 1864 he became a full member. Thenceforward water-colour was his usual medium, although from time to time be worked in oil, which he used skilfully, but somewhat in the spirit of aquarelle.

Among liis best oils are the splendid 'Debatable ground at Harlech Castle' (1863), much finer than the water-colour version, 'Time and Tide' (1857), that lovely vision of sunlight, 'Looking down the River,' also superior to the water-colour version, that masterpiece in little 'Brignall Church,' 'Morning Mist on Loch Maree,' 'Goring Lock on the Thames,' 'Moon rising over Bamburg,' and 'From Moor to Mount.' Hunt, from the very first, showed that he possessed to an unusual extent that most important attribute for a landscape painter -- imagination, -- and that he was able to make his pictures not only beautiful in technique but fraught with deep poetic thought. From his early days the example of Turner dominated him, and although he was never in any sense of the word a copyist, and his productions were always marked by strong individual characteristics, some reminiscence of Turner may be noted in many of his finest achievements. They were, so to speak, redolent of the memory of that great artist, and although the special technique of Hunt was intensely original, it was in some important respects founded upon that of his great master. It must, however, be noted that the imaginative quality which Hunt possessed so strongly was not allowed to interfere with the truth of his work, and it was this very truth, this intense observance of Nature, and this unflinching determination to set down whatever Nature dictated that first struck Ruskin, and caused him to praise the artist with such persistence.

For several years between 1862 and 1870 Hunt lived at Durham, and it is evident that the scenes furnished by that city, by Whitby, the Tyne, and other places in the north-eastern counties, appealed strongly to his imagination, for he chose his subjects there very frequently. Eventually he took a house, No. 1, Tor Villas, Campden Hill, which had previously been tenanted by Mr. J. C. Hook, R.A., and Mr. Holman Hunt. This remained his home he died of apoplexy, leaving a widow and three daughters, one of whom. Miss Violet Hunt, is authoress of some of the most dainty and delightful fiction of the present day. Although his art was not calculated for wide popularity. Hunt did not lack honour in his lifetime; but it is said that he took to heart the Royal Academy's failure to recognize his merit. If, however, as shortly before his death he is reported to have said, "the real reward for an artist is his own pleasure in the work itself," then Hunt's life must have yielded him abundant satisfaction.

In 1884, a number of his pictures were collected for exhibition in the Gallery of the Fine Art Society. Early in 1897, a Hunt Exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club contained 138 works, and later in the year a still larger collection, 204 in number, was shown at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Hunt had been a pretty constant exhibitor in his native town, first at the Autumn Exhibitions of the Liverpool Academy, and then at those of the Corporation. To the second of these (1872) he sent two drawings, and thereafter he did not often miss a year. In the Permanent Collection at the Walker Art Gallery he is only represented by the admirable drawing, 'Working Late.' As a man Hunt endeared himself to his immediate friends by the sensitive grace oi his disposition, but he lacked the social expansiveness that makes a man widely popular. He was handsome, delicate, dreamy, irritable and excitable, a perpetually eager and restless worker, a merciless critic of his own work. As he was extremely shortsighted it is difficult to account for the microscopic fidelity with which he recorded natural detail. His technique, almost inscrutable, it shows very great skill in the manipulation of pigment; it enabled him to obtain a brilliancy and luminous mystery only possible with fine colour, and in the hands of a master.

Among the most notable of his drawings are, 'Autumn, North Wales' (1857), 'Brignall Banks' (1878), the panoramic 'Ullswater' (1863), 'Schloss Elz, Moselle' (1863), 'The Eiger and Jung Frau' (1862), 'Armboth Fell,' 'Durham misty with Colliery Smoke,' 'Loch Torndon,' 'Streatley on the Thames,' 'Bamborough from the South,' 'When Summer Days are fine,' 'Naples,' 'Blue Lights,' 'Whitby,' 'Naples Bay,' and 'A Welsh Moorland.' It has with some truth been claimed for Hunt that there was no false sentimentality about him, as may be realized when the names of his greatest works are considered. They are simply topographical descriptions, and do not attempt to convey any impression of the poetry of the works in question. Hunt ever refused to fall in with the prevailing fashion for a sentimental or poetic name for a poetic picture, preferring that the work should tell its own story, and that the name should merely convey a description of the place where the landscape was painted. He was able to gain a mastery over the realities of English landscape without sacrificing the poetical qualities of his noble art, and amongst works of modern landscape painters, his will ever command a high position by reason of their absolute truth, their keen conception of beauty, and the refining and delightful vein of poetic imagination which is never absent from them. E. R. D.

Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876 - Reprinted, 1894, 1899.

View painter's art: Alfred William Hunt, (1830-1896)

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