Alfred William HUNT (Liverpool 1830 - London 1896)

Mount Snowdon through Clearing Clouds Sold

Watercolour, with scratching out.
Signed and dated Alfred W Hunt / 1857 at the lower right.
320 x 490 mm. (12 5/8 x 19 1/4 in.)

ACQUIRED BY THE J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES, CA.

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This superb, atmospheric watercolour by Hunt is a view of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, which rises to 1,085 metres above sea level and dominates the surrounding Snowdonia National Park. This view is of the west flank of the mountain, looking towards the southeast. Hunt made several sketching trips to North Wales in the 1850’s, while studying at Oxford, perhaps at the suggestion of David Cox. At least one of these visits to Wales was financed by the Oxford printseller James Wyatt, who exhibited Hunt’s drawings in his shop on the High Street, and who seems to have developed a market for mountain views by the artist. One recent scholar has suggested that ‘Hunt’s particular interest in mountain subjects, treated with careful attention to their structure and geological character, and the physical processes which had formed the landscape, was perhaps fostered by the principal of the Liverpool Collegiate School, the Revd William Conybeare, who was a geologist and Bible scholar.’ Hunt must surely also have been inspired by the fourth volume of Ruskin’s Modern Painters, published in April 1856 and subtitled Of Mountain Beauty, in which the author extols the virtues of mountain subjects as worthy of serious artistic study in terms of their geology.

Between 1856 and 1858 Hunt produced a handful of paintings and watercolours of mountain views in Snowdonia, including the painting The Track of an Ancient Glacier in the Tate in London, completed in 1858, and two watercolour views of Cwm Trifaen with the Peak of Glyder Fach, one now in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the other in the Robertson Collection in Orkney; both watercolours are closely comparable to the present sheet in style and technique.

Allen Staley has noted that ‘[The] watercolours from the 1850s are Hunt’s freshest and strongest works. Their compositions seem to be the result of a direct confrontation with nature...’ The difficult working conditions borne by the artist at the time he produced this watercolour is perhaps best seen in a letter written to a friend in September 1857, while he was working in Snowdonia. In this letter, Hunt writes that ‘I am in the land of damp – of fog and mist – I know it to my cost. We have had nothing but...rain for the last fortnight – now the weather is holding up for a time, but the cold (in Cwm Trifaen) is unendurable. I’ve composed my epitaph – to be graven on the biggest stone of the biggest moraine there...As soon as I’ve extricated myself from Cwm Trifaen I shall run away hence...campaigning here is really no joke.’

Another large watercolour view of Mount Snowdon by Hunt, seen from a similar vantage point but further away from the mountain’s peaks, is in a private collection. While that watercolour, which is unsigned and undated, has previously been thought to be the work exhibited by Hunt at the Royal Academy in 1857 under the title ‘Snowdon after an April Hailstorm’, it is more likely that the present, signed and dated watercolour is the work in question. Of the watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857, Ruskin wrote, ‘[it] is a very remarkable drawing, and the best study of sky that I can find this year; notable especially for its expression of the consumption of the clouds – not their driving away, but melting away in the warmer air.’ This description would also seem to relate much more closely to composition and tonality of the present sheet, than to the other watercolour of a similar view.

As Christopher Newall has perceptively written of Alfred William Hunt, ‘His work is a celebration of the beauty of the British landscape, with its extraordinary variety of aspect and constant fluctuation of atmospheric and meteorological effect. His paintings and drawings have the power to make the spectator want to see and experience the places represented, not so much to test the artist’s responses, but to share the delight he felt.’

Provenance:
Charles Nobbs, York
Anonymous sale, Leyburn, Tennants, 23 November 2006, lot 777
The Maas Gallery, London, in April 2007
Christopher Cone, Whitby.

Literature:
Probably John Ruskin, Notes on Some of the Principal Pictures Exhibited in the Rooms of the Royal Academy and the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, Etc., No.III – 1857, London, 1857; reprinted in E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, ed., The Works of John Ruskin, Vol.XIV: Academy Notes, Notes on Prout and Hunt and other Art Criticisms 1855-1888, London, 1904, p.117.

Alfred William HUNT

Mount Snowdon through Clearing Clouds

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