|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following, submitted July 2004, is excerpted from the writing of Michael Wreszin, Professor Emeritus Queens College and the City University of New York |
"E. Aubrey Hunt :American Expatriate Artist"
My grandfather, E. Aubrey Hunt has spent a lifetime looking at me - from my childhood un till my dotage. A handsome, mustachioed man he stares across a brass serving tray covered with a decanter and glasses. In another portrait, he peers at me while grasping his brush and palette - again, mustachioed, intent. I thought I resembled him, if I didn't I wanted to: his piercing black eyes, the dramatic ambience of an artist. There were also photographs of him lounging in his Parisian studio a decanter on a brass tray beside him.
I heard much of this grandfather from my mother, Mavis Hunt, and my uncle, Wyndham Thayer Hunt, who lived with many of their father's paintings and memorabilia. Another older uncle, my mother's half/brother, Edmund Aubrey Hunt, a loquacious gentleman as well as an intrepid world traveler, invariably turned up on Christmas Eve at my mother's house to celebrate and regale us with stories of his father, particularly of his shipwrecks and his time in North Africa. On a wall in our house was a palette with my grandfather's brushes attached. There was also a jewel handled knife from Morocco.My mother still had the short barreled silver pistol which had belonged to her mother when the family lived in Tangier, where my mother was born. I recall a picture of "Gaggy, " my Grandmother, Maud Chadwick,riding side saddle with her daughter on her lap and a gun holster strapped to her waist. I found it hard to connect that gun with Gaggy, an English woman who was anything but a pistol packing mama.
The Hunts in America went back to Ephriam Hunt, a refugee from the disastrous field of Marston Moor. The Hunts were among the prominent families of the Boston area. They lived first in Duxbury and later in Weymouth.
E. Aubrey Hunt was the first of two sons of Edmund Soper Hunt and Anne Marie Poole. He was born February 7, 1855. Aubrey's father was in the wholesale shoe industry but he later used his financial success to take up the manufacture of fireworks, and, more importantly, a life saving device that rescued people from floundering or sinking ships in the rough seas off the New England coast.
E Aubrey Hunt's mother was also of colonial lineage. Her great grandfather, Samuel Poole, fought in the Revolutionary War and her grandmother, Ruth Fullerton, was a direct descendant of Myles Standish. Thus Aubrey was born into a prominent, comfortably well off family. It was a household with two live in African-American servants, Thomas and Fannie Kearns. As a child, when he wasn't a truant, Aubrey was mischievous in school, spending much of his time drawing caricatures of his classmates and his teachers. He also took piano lessons, which stood him in good stead throughout his life as he loved to play and sing at family gatherings. He felt the lessons had taught him the value of personal discipline. Although he didn't turn out to be a musician, his disciplined hard work at his painterly craft certainly paid off. Still, he was given to pranks, and in the eyes of his father he was incorrigible and unmanageable .
By the time he was thirteen his parents felt that he was not becoming well educated in the Weymouth public school. They sent him to St. John's School for Boys on Somerset Street in Boston. At St. John's he found schooling more stimulating. He made many friends and his teachers immediately recognized and encouraged his drawing talent. In 1874, upon graduation, he entered the architectural firm of Emerson and Fehmer. William Ralph Emerson was a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Aubrey remained with the firm for only a short period. Emerson quickly recognized the young man's obvious artistic talents and was interested enough to go to Weymouth and urge Aubrey's parents to send him to art school. His parents supported an advised plan to gain admission to L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. They saw to it that he was tutored in French before his departure.
Aubrey was nineteen in July of 1874 and because of his adventurous and what appeared to his parents as a devil may care attitude about life, his mother was worried about his going to Paris on his own. She persuaded her cousin Annie to go with him, and to live with him in Paris for a year. It just so happened that his Aunt Florence and his Uncle Fred were going to England that summer, so they also escorted him. His mother went down to see them all off on the White Star Line's steamer the "Celtic." On the voyage Aubrey quickly met his fellow passenger, Henry Stanley the prestigous African explorer, who was so taken with Aubrey's exuberance that he tried to persuade him to put off going to art school and to accompany him on his trip to Africa. Cousin Annie was quick to put the kibosh on this wild scheme, but it does reveal the wanderlust that worried his parents.
Thus, the party of aunts, uncles and cousins arrived in England for a short visit before they all went on to Paris where they found lodging with a French family. Aubrey was immediately enrolled in some private art classes to prepare for his upcoming entrance exams . In October he was accepted to the Jean- Leon Gerome atelier by the master himself.
Aubrey studied in Paris for over five years. At some point his cousin Annie left, and he lived on his own. There is a vivid snapshot of him in his own studio with some of his colleagues. He is sporting a long black cape and is the picture of a romantic young bohemian. Between school sessions at the atelier, he traveled in England, Holland, Belgium and Italy avidly pursuing his art and gaining a reputation among his fellow students, not to mention their mentor, as an up and coming young painter.
In 1876 Aubrey met a beautiful young Irish woman, Agnes Fitzgibbon, while working in the Louvre. It was love at first sight. Fearing his parents' reaction he did not inform his family for nearly a year after his marriage and when he did, the first of four children with Agnes had been born. Aubrey's father was so stunned, his wife said he behaved as though he been struck a physical blow and she recalled that he hardly spoke for a month.
In 1789 Aubrey's mother persuaded her husband to send her to London where her son now lived, having long since completed his training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. She was startled to discover that Aubrey had two infant children, Aubrey and Annie, and that his young wife, Agnes was a beautiful young woman with "charming manners and great gentleness." She later recalled that she had warmed to her immediately and "grew to love her very dearly."
Aubrey had returned to London by 1878, and it was not long before he was being widely and frequently exhibited. The Boston newspapers also kept up a running commentary on his successes, and he frequently sent paintings home to be shown in Boston galleries. Hunt's depiction of clouds became justly famous and was constantly applauded by art critics. In 1881, James Whistler, who was a great admirer of Hunt's work, wrote to Charles Deschamps: "Now about Aubrey Hunt-I want Sir Coutts very much to see his picture - (I am sure that it will be charming and really most important in the Grosvenor - His work is most brilliant and full of delightful quality -far more artistically rare than all the Ellis and Easts and Wyllies put together." This comment almost certainly refers to Hunt's painting, "Meadow with Sheep and Figures," which was on exhibit at the Royal Academy.
Having become established as an increasingly well known young artist in England, Hunt made frequent visits to his family in Weymouth and often stayed for several months at a time painting scenes of the Massachusett's waterfronts. He maintained a studio for awhile in Weymouth down by the town docks. On December 9th 1882 he sailed for England on the City of Berlin leaving from New York and carrying much of his work with him. The steamship had a "mishap in mid ocean" but was rescued by the "City of Chester" of the same line. The passengers were all returned to New York. On December 28th instead of making the return trip on the City of Chester, Hunt sailed on the City of Brussels which, unbelievably, collided with a steamer, the "Kirby Hall," at the estuary of the Mersey. The "City of Brussels" floundered almost immediately and the passengers boarded the life boats in a dense fog. So thick was the fog that the "Kirby Hall" was of little direct assistance in helping to rescue those in the lifeboats. Since Hunt was one of the better known distinguished passengers aboard, he gave a detailed account of the collision and sinking of the ship which was published in the Boston Transcript of January 30, 1883. Hunt managed to get into the purser's boat, which was one of the last to leave the sinking ship.
In addition to his baggage Hunt lost nearly a year's work that he had completed in Weymouth: sketches, and finished pictures intended for sale in London where he had a more pronounced reputation than in Boston. On this score, on one occasion when he was leaving the country to return to England a Boston paper carried an illustrated article with the headline: " Leave Boston is Famous Painter's Advice to all Budding Artists." Two large paintings and a portrait of the artist by Mrs. Brewster Sewell accompanied the piece. Hunt was quoted:
"The man who desires to paint the beautiful,
the colorful, the imaginative and the passionate
should leave Boston. . .
The sooner he gets away from Boston the better
for his chances of realizing his dreams.
Boston is a city of history and tradition, but the
inspirations of its heroes is the inspiration of
practical men, of statesmen, scientists and soldiers."
It was not long after his return to England that there was a major exhibit of paintings intended for the Royal Academy. Hunt was one of the prominent exhibitors as a member of the Society of British Artists and an associate of James MacNeil Whistler.
By the early 80's Hunt's work was being shown with students of Whistler at several exhibitions. In the many accounts of the battles on the London art scene between younger upstarts led by Whistler, Hunt is often cited as one of the most able young artists of the Whistler faction challenging the traditional artistic establishment at the Royal Academy. In December of 1884 the conservative Society of British Artists admitted Whistler who touted several of his young proteges, one of which was Aubrey Hunt, whose seascape "Rough Weather off the Lido" drew much favorable commentary from several critics in London. His range, it was noted "is hardly narrow" and he invariably approached his subjects in "an unconventional way."
In November 1887 Hunt's work was shown in a group exhibition at the Groupil Gallery along with Whistler and Sergeant. The Saturday Review critic declared Hunt:
One of the most accomplished of the young artists
who have acquired their skills in French studios, and
he has besides something free and personal in the dexterity
with which he handles his brush. . .. . Mr. Hunt is especially
admirable as a sketcher. He obtains a large amount of truth,
and of the sort that is conveyed to us by a glance at nature,
and is remembered in the general recollection of an impression.
The kind of view of nature which he takes is especially
suitable for treatment in a sketch, and Mr. Aubrey Hunt
shows how, by elegance, quickness, and consistency,
handling may be made to give a sketch all the completeness
and art necessary to a little picture.. . ..His brush work is
of very high quality; elegant, spirited, and finished in style,
It expresses his own feelings as well as external facts [11/26/87]
By the time of Whistler's presidency of the society in 1886, Hunt was frequently cited as one of that "little clique of the art world - painters of the purely modern school" as Mortimer Mempes recalled. Most were devotes of Whistler. But when Whistler took over the society he became excessively strict as to who would be exhibited. He clearly favored those artists representing the impressionist school. He invited outsiders from Paris, much to the consternation of the traditionalists, and he insisted on showing far less work so that the paintings chosen were hung to better advantage than the crowded walls of the past. Hunt's work was favored by Whistler and he became one of the more highly regarded artists in the group.
Through these years Hunt frequently traveled to France, Belgium, Holland and Italy on painting sojourns. On one of these trips to Venice in 1889 he met the renowned strong man and wrestler, Eugen Sandow. He was commissioned by Sandow to paint a portrait of him as a Gladiator. Hunt encouraged Sandow to go to London to challenge the famous Samson to a contest. Sandow's biographer, David L. Chapman, is skeptical of this account. He felt that Sandow had cultivated the relationship with Hunt because it provided him " with the entree into polite society that he had previously lacked. . He knew how to use his charm and his fine physique to advance himself in the set of urbane, civilized expatriates then living in Venice."
In any event, it was shortly after meeting Hunt and having the portrait painted that he left for England and did indeed defeat Samson, known at the time as the "Strongest Man on Earth." Hunt's portrait of the gladiator was reprinted many times over the years and was later purchased by Joe Weider a successful publisher of body building magazines. The gladiator portrait hangs to this day in Weider's building in Woodland Hills, California. Throughout his career Hunt painted portraits as a means of supplementing his income as an artist. One of the more famous of these portraits is Andrew Carnegie's partner, Henry Phipps.
By this time in the eighties, Aubrey Hunt was the father of four children, Edmund, Annie, Agnes and Gerald. However, the marriage came to an end in the late 1880's. During these last years of this marriage Hunt made his first trips to Morocco, particularly to Tangier. On one of these sojourns he met and fell in love with Maude Chadwick, who was on a holiday trip to North Africa. She was from a well to do British family, and they were married in 1892.
Like so many other British and American artists of the time, E, Aubrey Hunt was lured to the shores of North Africa as an exciting , exotic place to live as well as a marvelous setting within which to paint, not only the picturesque shores and seascapes but the colorful native population. Another reason for his decision to live in Tangier was for the health of his asthmatic son, Edmund. Doctors had assured Hunt that the climate would be of great benefit. The Hunts moved to Tangier early in the 90's and remained for a decade.
Hunt became one of the better known expatriates in the artist community of Tangier. He was certainly one of the more flamboyant, if exacting, Orientalists. In addition to his circle of friends in the English expatriate community, he also made friends with many Moroccans including the well known bandit, El Raisuli,(often spelled Raisuni, Rasuli or Raizuni) a rebel who was widely known as the "Sultan of the Mountains" because his hideout was in the Rif mountain range just north of the city of Tangier. He was also known as the last of the Barbary Pirates.
One of the One of the reasons for Hunt's loyalty to Raisuli was that he made it possible for Hunt to "go forth sketching among the Rif tribesmen where a heavy revolver and a Winchester were quite as essential as a palette and a paint box." Some of his best known paintings, "Powder Play" and "The Heads of the Rebels" were the results of his solitary trips into the mountains above the city looking for material.
Hunt was an active sportsman as well as an artist. According to Gerald Ackerman many young artists came to Tangier because they wanted the excitement, wanted to be armed and to go "hunting" at all seasons. In England Hunt had often hunted with Lord Osborn's fox hounds in Ripley. So it is not surprising that as a fine horseman he took up the popular North African sport of pigsticking. The chasing of wild boars thrilled him. He painted several vivid works of horsemen at the sport. It was dangerous and riders were often thrown from their horses and sometimes even gored by the wild boars. It was on one of these chases that Hunt was thrown and injured . As a result he lived with serious back pain for the rest of his life and walked using a cane.
These and other paintings in the decade of the nineties and the early years of the 20th century fall under the artistic label of "Orientalism." It was the fantastic light, the immense sky and the shades of brown and tan that captured Hunt's imagination. The port and the sea also inspired many of these paintings. One of the most vivid is "Off the Barbara Coast" and another is "Fantasia, Tangiers, Morroco." He did find life in Tangier exotic, colorful and also an enriching place to live. His fine house was in the European quarter, the upscale section on Mt. Washington, with its beautiful gardens and great trees. The family had a nanny to take care of the children, as well as house servants and two horses.
E Aubrey Hunt was a well known figure among the bohemian community of Tangier. There is a remarkable portrait of him in a western cowboy hat, a flowing red mustache with the usual intent expression on his face. The portrait was painted by , Sir John Lavery who also spent years in Tangier. Hunt's wife gave the portrait to the artist and collector Hubert Coop. She complained: " It just won't do, " he looks like " a missionary that never made a convert." Despite his membership in the European community Hunt had a remarkable ability to meet and talk with people. They liked the "little Yankee with the red moustache" and as a result he was able to paint a number of sensitive pictures of the local inhabitants.
After living in Tangier for more than a decade Hunt returned to England following the birth of his daughter, Mavis. The family moved to the oldest continuously inhabited manor house in England, Hemmingford Grey, near Huntingdonshire, where they lived from 1901 to 1904. Some of his most successful landscapes and scenes along the river Ouse were done during these years.
Hunt did return for visits to Morocco and also painted on the Continent. The family moved to Rye in Sussex in 1905. He had another son, Wyndham, born in Hemmingford Grey and raised in Rye. They lived in the Angmerin house on Latchbell Street. Here, too, Hunt painted land and seascapes and also returned often to the United States to see his family and to paint in the environs of Weymouth. He had now become well known in the Boston community and there were several exhibitions of his work.
Hunt moved with the family to Hastings at the time of the war. He died on November 22, 1922.
E. Aubrey Hunt has remained on the fringes of discovery by a larger audience for many years. As late as the 1950's a supplement to "The Illustrated London News" carried two large pages devoted to the works of Hunt entitled "THE ART OF E. AUBREY HUNT: A GIFTED AND ONCE JUSTLY FAMOUS PAINTER." There were six smaller reproductions in black and white and full page color reproduction of "Testing the Temperature: Woman and Child on the Beach," by E. Aubrey Hunt 1856-1922. The caption referred to the "charming painting of a gifted artist now almost forgotten.' It named several galleries in England where Hunts pictures could be found.
Gerald Ackerman a well known art historian devoted four pages to E. Aubrey Hunt in his 1994 English edition of American Orientalists. With the recent decline in the popular absorption in abstract expressionist art and a renewed interest in various forms of representative art and particularly the impressionist period, E. Aubrey Hunt's work should be recognized and revived. In a recent review in The New York Times "Impressionism, "Born of the Sea" with reproductions of Manet's "Beach at Boulogne"among other seascapes one can quickly see the importance and significance of the work of Hunt. His command of the sky and his beach scenes show up very well.
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Edmund Hunt is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915