WILLIAM MORRIS HUNT1824-1879
William Morris Hunt was a portrait, genre, landscape and mural painter. He was born in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1824. He was the brother of architect Richard Morris Hunt. Following his father’s death, Hunt’s mother moved the family to New Haven, Connecticut, where she and her children took painting classes with an Italian immigrant artist named Gambadella. Hunt attended Harvard until his junior year, when Mrs. Hunt decided to take her children to study abroad. In Rome, William studied drawing in the studio of American sculptor Henry Kirke Brown. In 1845, he enrolled in the Dusseldorf Academy. Dissatisfied with the academic setting there, he left for Paris to study from 1847 to 1853 with Thomas Couture at his studio. From 1853 to 1855 Hunt studied with Jean-Francois Millet at Barbizon, a village in the north of France, along with other artists who had fled studio painting to live in the midst of the rural and agricultural scenes they depicted. Hunt became a leading proponent of the Barbizon philosophy of painting, the precursor of Impressionism. These artists, revolting against the strictures of the academies and the constraints of studio painting, began for the first time to paint outdoors en plein air seeking to portray the simple life of the countryside. After his return to America in 1855, he settled briefly in Brattleboro, Vermont, and then moved to Newport, Rhode Island where he established a studio and school on Church Street. In 1859 John La Farge studied with Hunt in Newport. Hunt moved to Boston in 1862 where he set up his studio in the Studio Building, and soon became a leading portrait painter in the city. Two years later he moved to a larger studio in the Mercantile Building on Summer Street. He also conducted highly regarded painting classes in Boston, influencing and encouraging many artists, including Winslow Homer and Elihu Vedder, and championing the careers of women in the arts. In 1872 his studio and his private collection were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire. Having lost all his works in progress, including a fifty-foot canvas of the “Flight of Night”–a precursor to a large mural project commissioned for the New York State Capitol at Albany, New York–Hunt began anew, establishing a studio at the corner of Park Square and Boylston Street. Hunt drowned in 1879 while visiting Celia Thaxter on the Isle of Shoals, off the New Hampshire coast; some considered his death a suicide.