HUNTER, COLIN (1841-1904), sea-painter, born at Glasgow on 16 July 1841, was youngest child in the family of three sons and two daughters of John Hunter and his wife, Anne MacArthur. Owing to failing health the father gave up business in Glasgow about 1844, and removing to Helensburgh, opened a library and bookshop there, and became post-master. Colin Hunter was thus brought up on the coast. On leaving school he spent four years in a shipping-office in Glasgow, and soon made the acquaintance of William Black, the novelist, who became a lifelong friend. From early youth his bias towards art was strong. He devoted all his leisure to sketching from nature, and after a little study at the local school of art he at twenty abandoned business to become a landscape-painter. He practically taught himself to paint by working out of doors, frequently in the company of J. Milne Donald, the best-known painter in the west of Scotland, who encouraged him and gave him hints. From the first his work was vigorous, and, for its period, strong and rich in tone. A few months spent in Paris in the studio of M. Leon Bonnat at a later date left no obvious traces on his style.

Many of Hunter's earlier pictures appeared in the Royal Scottish Academy and the Glasgow Institute. For the most part they were closely studied and carefully painted scenes in the neighbourhood of Helensburgh, near the Trossachs or in Glenfalloch. Rustic figures were occasionally introduced. But towards 1870 he took seriously to painting the sea, and thenceforth, although frequently producing admirable inland landscapes, his finest, and certainly his most characteristic, work was inspired by the Firth of Clyde and Arran, or by the sea-fringed and fretted highlands and islands of the west.

Until 1870 he lived principally at Helensburgh, although from 1868 to 1872 he had a studio in Edinburgh. Meanwhile his work commenced to attract attention at the Royal Academy. He had first exhibited there in 1868. Four years later he went to London. After occupying studios in Langham Place and Carlton Hill, he removed in 1877 to Melbury Road, Kensington, where he built a fine house and studio [Lugar Lodge, called after a village in Ayrshire]. In 1873 the power and originality of Trawlers waiting for Darkness had evoked general admiration. His career was thenceforth one of almost unbroken success. His pictures formed for many years one of the features of the Academy exhibitions, where [328/29] he showed ninety-seven pictures in all. Many were acquired for public collections. The Salmon Stake Nets (1874) went to Sydney and Waiting for the Homeward Bound (1882) to Adelaide. Their Only Harvest (1878), one of the best purchases of the Chantrey trustees, is in the Tate Gallery, London; The Herring Market at Sea (1884) at Manchester, and The Pool in the Woods (1897), a charming landscape, at Liverpool. The Glasgow Gallery contains Goodnight to Skye (1895) and Niagara Rapids (1901), the latter a reminiscence of a visit to America. Preston possesses Signs of Herring (1899), one of his finest works. In 1884 he was elected A.R.A.

Hunter's handling of oil-paint was heavy and lacked flow and flexibility, and his drawing was effective and robust rather than constructive and elegant; but he had an instinctive feeling for ensemble and chiaroscuro, was a powerful, if restricted, colourist, and possessed a poetic apprehension of certain effects of light and atmosphere. He was at his best perhaps in pictures in which some incident of fisher-life or sea-faring was associated with the pathetic sentiment of sunset or dusky after-glow, and his most characteristic pieces are low in tone and somewhat sad in feeling. Occasionally painting in water-colour with vigour and freshness, he was a member of the Royal Scottish Water-Colour Society. As an etcher he also attained some distinction, his plates being effective in arrangement, sparkling in effect, and drawn with vigour and decisiveness.

Some time before his death Colin Hunter's health failed and his right hand was paralysed. He died at Lugar [Lodge], Melbury Road, on 24 Sept. 1904, and was buried at Helensburgh. He married on 20 Nov. 1873, in Glasgow, Isabella, daughter of John H. Young, surgeon-dentist. His wife, with two sons (the elder of whom, Mr. J. Young Hunter, is an artist) and two daughters, survived him. Mrs. Hunter possesses a portrait of her husband, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878, by John Pettie, R.A.

[Sources] Information from the family; exhibition catalogues; Sir W. Armstrong's Scottish Painters, 1887; Art Journal, 1891, vol. 43, p. 187; J. L. Caw, Scottish Painting, 1908; Wemyss Reid's Life of William Black, passim; Scotsman, 26 and 29 Sept. 1904. [328-29]


Caw, J. L. "HUNTER, COLIN." Dictionary of National Biography. Second Supplement. Vol. II. Faed-Muybridge. Ed. Sidney Lee. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1912. 328-29. Web. 28 October 2022.

Created 28 October 2022