William Morris Hunt was born in Brattleboro, Vermont. After three years at Harvard College, he left to join the wave of American artists who traveled to Europe during the nineteenth century. Cities like Munich, Düsseldorf, and Paris offered young artists superior teachers and examples of classical art as well as the latest trends. In Paris, Hunt studied with the influential Thomas Couture, who stressed the importance of sketching and preserving the freshness of one's first impressions.
Hunt's most important encounter in Europe was with the French painter Jean-François Millet. Living near the village of Barbizon, Millet and several other artists painted rural landscapes infused with a poetic mood. These artists came to be known as the Barbizon School. In his painting and teaching, Hunt brought the Barbizon style back to America when he returned in 1856. His own work included portraits, murals, and scenes of everyday life. In his charcoal drawing of a seated girl, done late in his career, Hunt used shadow and light evocatively to create an introspective, hushed mood. After settling in Boston in 1862, he also influenced the taste of Boston patrons, encouraging them to buy works by Barbizon artists.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]