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A Basket with Grapes and Plums

William Henry Hunt, English, 1790 - 1864

Made in England, Europe

Late 1820s

Watercolor with scratching out over graphite on wove paper

Image and sheet: 7 3/8 x 10 5/8 inches (18.7 x 27 cm) Mount: 9 3/8 x 12 1/2 inches (23.8 x 31.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Charles E. Mather III and Mary MacGregor Mather, 2002

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    William Henry Hunt (known as “Bird’s Nest” Hunt) learned to sketch from nature during a seven-year apprenticeship with the English painter and draftsman John Varley that began around 1804. A few years later he joined Dr. Thomas Monro’s rural academy on the outskirts of Bushey in Hertfordshire, England. There he learned how to draw with the reed pen, copying Monro’s collection of drawings by Canaletto and sketching nearby architectural sites.

    By 1826 Hunt was made a full member of the Old Watercolor Society and became a regular contributor to its exhibitions. Also around this time he developed a technique of working in broken touches of watercolor, sometimes using a knife to scratch white highlights into the paper. He used this method in the charming portrait of his cousin Mary Bugden Hunt, in which the background wall as well as the sitter’s head and arms are painted in tiny stipples, while small white areas scraped out with the knife make points of light on her dainty shoes.

    Hunt is best known for his watercolor still-lifes, many of which include the bird’s nests that earned him his nickname. Fruit was also a favorite subject, as in this evocative, softly lit composition of grapes and plums. Their surfaces radiate a dull glow that contrasts with the brighter highlights on the finely drawn texture of the woven basket.

    This watercolor is from a gift of five, all of which provide a wonderful range of Hunt’s techniques and choice of subject matter. As the first works by the artist to enter the Museum’s collection, they are a fine addition to our holdings of British art on paper. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 57.