Alfred William Hunt Alfred William Hunt, VPRWS (1830-1896) Though they came from very different social backgrounds, Alfred William Hunt may be compared to his friend, Albert Goodwin, as one of the leading landscape painters to follow the principles of John Ruskin. He achieved this by ‘fusing the sweep and atmosphere of Turner with Pre-Raphaelite finish and compositional originality’ (Scott Wilcox 1996, page 24).
Alfred William Hunt was born in Liverpool on 15 November 1830, son of the landscape painter, Andrew Hunt. Taking lessons from his father, and absorbing the influence of both his father’s friend, David Cox, and J M W Turner, he exhibited from the age of 12. Blessed with academic and artistic talents, he studied at Liverpool Collegiate School and Oxford (from 1848) with the intention of entering the Church. He won the Newdigate Prize for English Verse (1851) and became a Fellow of Corpus Christi College (1853).
For a while he suspended the necessity of taking holy orders, and pursued academic and artistic careers in tandem; he exhibited at the Royal Academy (from 1854) and was elected to the Liverpool Academy (an associate in 1854, and a member two years later).
During this period, Hunt began to read the work of Ruskin, and became so inspired by its aesthetic of ‘Truth to Nature’ as to develop his art as a synthesis of its Turnerian and Pre-Raphaelite elements. His growing emulation of Turner can clearly be seen in his love of atmospherics, and in the experimental techniques that he employed to achieve them. His loyalty to Pre-Raphaelitism can be understood through the almost scientifically detailed studies he made in preparation for painting. His membership of the Hogarth Club (1858) also demonstrated Pre-Raphaelite affiliations. As a result of these endeavours, he gained and sustained Ruskin’s praise, and became his friend and correspondent.
Hunt’s dedication to landscape painting also revealed itself in the extensive summer tours that he began to take at this time. He frequently visited the northern counties of England, North Wales and Scotland. He increasingly travelled through Europe – to France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece – and beyond, to Turkey and the Holy Land.
In 1861, Hunt decided to marry and, in so doing, left the university for Durham, his wife’s native town, and devoted himself fully to watercolour painting. A year later he was elected to the Society of Painters in Water Colours (associate 1862, member 1864), soon becoming a prime mover in raising its status in the art world. On settling in London, in 1865, he took over the Campden Hill studio of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, William Holman Hunt, who was leaving for the Holy Land. He then exhibited mainly at the OWS, where fellow artists and perceptive connoisseurs appreciated him more properly than did members of the general public. He helped engineer the honorary membership of Ruskin to the society (1873) and served as its Vice-President (1880). (The society was renamed the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1881). His developing reputation was marked, in 1893, by the inclusion of a group of his works in the World Exhibition in Chicago which he attended. He died in London on 3 May 1896.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including Tate; and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford).
Further reading Christopher Newall, ‘Hunt, Alfred William (1830-1896)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 28, page 834; Christopher Newall, The Poetry of Truth. Alfred William Hunt and the Art of Landscape, Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2004; Scott Wilcox, ‘Hunt, Alfred William (b Liverpool, 15 Nov 1830; d London, 3 May 1896)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 15, page 24