ABC Wednesday – H is for Hunt

William Henry Hunt (1790 – 1864) was an English watercolourist. This is one of my favourite paintings – Primroses and Bird’s Nest.

Hunt specialised in still life compositions, mainly fruit, flowers, nests and eggs – he was known as ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt. This is one of his bird’s nest paintings, measuring just 7½ inches by 10¾ inches. I saw a variation of this painting at the Royal Academy of Art ofThe Great Age of British Watercolours 1750 – 1880 exhibition several years ago. The catalogue describes Hunt as an outstanding technician. His work was admired by many, including John Ruskin who took lessons from him in 1854 and 1861.

There are a few details about Hunt in The Pre-Raphaelites by Timothy Hilton, including a reproduction of this painting. Amazingly, Hunt said:

I feel really frightened every time I sit down to paint a flower.

I think his paintings are just so beautiful. For more information on Hunt’s method of painting see Craig’s comment below.

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17 thoughts on “ABC Wednesday – H is for Hunt

      1. Hunt composed his watercolors in his studio, whether they were figure paintings or still life subjects. He would not paint anything unless the actual persons or objects he intended to depict were physically in front of him at all times until the watercolor was finished, which could take as long as two weeks. For still lifes of birds’ nests and flowers set against banks of moss covered soil (a background type which Hunt innovated and favored from the 1840s onward), the artist would bring the dirt into his studio, place the nests and flowers, against the bank of dirt, just as they would appear in the watercolor, and sit in front of his subject as he painted away. Generally, his paintings of fruit were even more highly detailed than those with flowers, since flowers withered more quickly and therefore limited Hunt’s painting time.

        According to the later artist, Walter Sickert, who viewed the studio after Hunt’s death, the work space was no more than seven feet square with lighting only from above. But Hunt, whose legs were deformed and who had trouble getting around, still managed to become one of the most popular watercolor painters of the 19th century by bringing his models into his modest studio and, after carefully composing them, painting them from life.

        Since photography was just beginning to become popular during the years Hunt painted most of his still life watercolors, it is not surprising that many of the earliest English photographers followed Hunt’s methods in composing their own still life photographs.


  1. I do know this painter and thank you for re-aquainting me with his work. I love watercolor and have great respect for anyone who can make it work. Beautiful. Love the quote too!
    Happy Wednesday.


  2. Beautiful painting – haven’t heard of him, but will keep an eye out for his works.

    ABCW Team


  3. Which reminds me that we have a water-colour exhibition on at BMAG and I must book a spot in the diary to go before it’s over. Thanks for the nudge.


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