Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thomas Watson Hunster (1851 - 1929), Sale 2378 Lot 4, Swann Galleries

There are a number of pieces of art that I have been drawn to in the upcoming auction, Ascension: A Century of African-American Art, at Swann Galleries on April 2, 2015. However, I am particularly interested in Thomas Watson Hunster because of his Washington, D.C. connection, and the fact that I had not ever seen any of his art. Very little archival information regarding Hunster or his art is available in print; therefore, I was not as familiar with him as I was with many of the other artists in the auction. Because of the lack of information that I have in my personal archive on Hunster, coupled with the fact that I was drawn to his landscape appearing in the upcoming African-American sale, Lot 4, at Swann Galleries, I decided to some research and learn more about this artist. 
Lot 4: Price Realized with Buyer's Premium: $6,500.

Thomas Watson Hunster, View of a Valley, Oil on linen canvas, circa 1900-10.
31" x 21½". Signed in oil, lower left.
Image: Swann Galleries 

My exploration led me to the Artist Files at the Smithsonian American Art/Portrait Gallery Library where I located a small archival folder for Thomas Watson Hunster. Of the 3 - 4 documents in that folder, the most promising was a small exhibition catalog from a memorial exhibition at Howard University (1951). The foreword to this catalog presented a 5-page biographical sketch written by Stanton Lawrence Wormley. Excerpts from that essay follow:   
  • For forty-eight years, until his retirement in 1922, Thomas W. Hunster served with distinction as Head of the Art Department of the Public Schools of Washington, D.C. [Hunster was over art in the black school system].
  • Art critics of the time were enthusiastic in their acclaim of the "historical accuracy of the buildings," the "exquisite models of the human figures and horses," the "faithful portrayal of artistic landscapes," and the "correctness of every detail."
  • Hunster exhibited rarely but always with success: Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition (1907), Paris International Exposition (1907), Exposition of the Society of Washington Artists (1926), Exhibition of the Independent Artists and Sculptors (1927), and Exhibition of the Washington Independent Artists (1928).
  • Thomas W. Hunster is fundamentally a landscape painter. The influences upon his work are many. Most evident are those of the Hudson River School, and especially the middle period of George Innes. It may be safely said that the work of Jerome Uhl, well-known artist at the turn of the century, had direct bearing on that of Hunster. (As an aside, Hunster was the model for Uhl's painting, The Viking, 1887.)  
  • Nature in all her seasons, in all her aspects, and in all her moods held a tremendous fascination for [Hunster], and the infinite love he bore her is apparent in his work to even a casual observer. 

Also, featured in the Howard University exhibition catalog, there was a landscape, Summer Daythat has a striking resemblance to Lot 4, appearing in the Swann auction. It is obvious that the two landscapes were painted from the same location because the left field of the canvases are fairly identical. However, the right half of the canvases present the landscape from a slightly different angle and perspective. 

I will continue this research on Thomas W. Hunster, and will share as significant information is uncovered.  

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