William Morris Hunt
(Brattleboro, Vermont, 1824 - 1879, Isle of Shoals, New Hampshire)
Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, and raised there and New Haven, Connecticut, Hunt entered Harvard University in 1840. He showed so little interest in academic studies that he was eventually suspended for wasting his time with such “amusements” as music and drawing. Around 1844, he left for Europe. After stays in Paris and Dusseldorf, he returned to Paris in 1846 where he entered the atelier of Thomas Couture.
In 1852, after encountering paintings by Jean-Francois Millet, Hunt left Paris to work with Millet in the small village of Barbizon. Hunt soon learned to combine Millet’s dark, Baroque palette of the 1850s with Couture’s fluid, painterly brushwork.
In 1855, Hunt returned to the United States, where he soon established a home and a studio in Newport, Rhode Island; among his students there were John La Farge and William and Henry James. Moving to Boston in 1862, he became that city’s leading portraitist and advocate of the Barbizon style.
Hunt’s most important contribution may have been as a teacher. Rejecting imitative painting, he instead encouraged a subjective response to nature, urging spontaneous technique to capture the essential truth of a subject.
A series of tragic events in the 1870s, including the destruction of his studio in the Great Boston Fire, left the artist exhausted and depressed. Hunt drowned inexplicably in Appledore on the Isle of Shoals. Whether his death was an accident or suicide has never been resolved.