A glimpse of rural life in the 1820s and 1830s from one of the 19th century's most admired watercolourists.
William Henry Hunt was a Londoner, and so brought a metropolitan eye to the land and the people who make their living from it.
His celebrated work, The Head Gardener, from the Courtauld's permanent collection, features a dandified horticulturalist and wealth of produce packed into a room so dark it could have been a one-room abode in the East End. His head gardener does an especially good line in pineapples, hardly a quintessential English crop.
Equally copious are the materials and range of techniques which propelled Hunt to the forefront of early 19th century painting in England. So, the focal point mentioned above is a dense square foot of portraiture which comprises pen and ink, watercolour, gouache, liquid wash, graphite and gum.
The current show comprises some 20 drawings and watercolours from the 1820s and 1830s. And Hunt’s vision of farmers, stone breakers, gamekeepers and gleaners has proven relevant enough, given our urban/rural divide, to inspire one of the Courtauld’s small, but intensive shows.
As the venue points out, there are plenty of literary depictions of the changing face of rural Britain. One need only look at Austen or the 19th-century writers who followed Hunt, such as Eliot and Hardy. But viewers can expect these paintings and drawings to tell stories of their own and in much less time than, say, Middlemarch.
Another important literary figure of those times was that quintessential critic Ruskin, a collector and a fan of Hunt. This show offers a chance to see why.