Robert Douglas Hunter (1928-2014), American
“Autumn By The Charles River”, 1989
(further inscribed: “Early October – 1989 Needham, Mass.”)
oil on canvas, 12 in. x 16 in.
(framed dimensions: 18 ½ in. x 22 ½ in.)
Signed lower left: “Robert Douglas Hunter ‘89”
While Robert Douglas Hunter is known primarily for his still life paintings, he also painted landscapes regularly throughout his life. He had first painted out of doors in 1949 when he went to Provincetown to study with Henry Hensche and learned to paint the effects of sunlight directly on the landscape. When painting landscapes, Hunter would identify locations based on the way light fell across the land at various times of day and under varying conditions. He was particularly fond of the morning light and would be out early to catch the first rays as they lit the landscape.
In 1989 Hunter was living in the old N.C. Wyeth home in Needham, Massachusetts, with a studio in an old barn behind the circa 1776 house which he sold a few years later to relocate. In a Boston Globe article in 1995, Hunter pointed out that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had visited the house regularly in the 19th century and the poet enjoyed sitting beside the slow moving Charles River at the end of the meadow behind the house under an ancient maple that came to be known as the “Longfellow Tree”. It was under the shade of that tree that Longfellow composed his ode “To the River Charles”.
I believe that in this painting, Hunter has taken a short walk down his backyard to set up his easel alongside the Charles River on a glorious October morning in that same location, as his property would offer this exact vantage point. The artist also conducted painting workshops in that same yard studying basic light and shadow principles. Forty years had elapsed since his summer with Hensche, and Hunter had developed his own landscape style and techniques.
The painting is confidently composed and painted with a delightful array of colors – cadmium oranges, reds, emerald greens and cerulean sky. Dramatic shadows cast by a nearby tree jut into the foreground across the chrome green grass, accentuating the bright sunlight as the artist stood on this spot at that time and place.
Mr. Hunter was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1928. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1945 and served two years in the Marine Corps. In 1949, he graduated with honors from the Vesper George School of Art. He studied in Provincetown with Henry Hensche during the summers of 1949 and 1950, then with R.H. Ives Gammell through 1955, that latter artist having passed on to Hunter the ideals he learned from his own mentor William McGregor Paxton. It was in Gammell's studio that Hunter met his future wife, Elizabeth Ives Valsam (Gammell's goddaughter). He taught at the Vesper George School from 1950-1983 and at the Worcester Art Museum from 1965-1975. Robert Douglas Hunter was known informally as the "Dean of the Boston School" of painting.
Robert Douglas Hunter won more than thirty regional and national prizes. He was a member of the Copley Society, the Guild of Boston Artists, the Provincetown Art Association and the Allied Artists of America. His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Ackland Art Museum, the Cape Cod Museum of Art, the Chrysler Art Museum, the Maryhill Museum, the Michelson Museum of Art, and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, not to mention numerous private, educational and corporate collections. He has a gallery wing named in his honor at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, which featured a retrospective exhibition of his paintings.
The painting is in excellent condition. The surface is clean, the colors vivid, there are no stretcher bar marks and is housed in a quality gold leaf frame with linen liner. There is a hint of what appears to be some slight yellowing of varnish overlap in the lower left area. This is hardly apparent when viewing in person with the naked eye. The only slight issue with the frame is that the gold finish on the surfaces that catch dust, i.e. the top and the bottom rails, has been somewhat abraded revealing the red sizing below, most likely a result of overzealous dusting with Pledge or some other polish / cleaner. This is unobtrusive and does not diminish enjoyment of the painting or frame in my opinion.
Robert Douglas Hunter painting, "Autumn By The Charles River", 1989