HORSES were to be depended on until they ran away once, Mr. Hunt said; “ and then they were like the man who jumped up and down in his back yard, with his mouth wide open, while his house was burning, thinking he was crying fire.”
During the long evenings of early winter he was very cheerful and happy, full of fun and stories. One evening he told us of his big, balky horse that he had tried to cure by electricity. I wish that I dared attempt his description of the astonishment of the horse, and his sudden increase in size, when the current of electricity first struck him ; the remedy did not prove a curative.
He told us a story of a monkey in Düsseldorf. The monkey was a very intelligent one, and greatly petted by his master, a professor in the art school. He was in the habit of giving the monkey daily some lumps of sugar in a small covered box. The little fellow was fond of opening and closing the box, and of helping himself to the sugar. As a matter of sport, the professor substituted for the sugar-box, one day, a box of exactly the same size and appearance, but which contained, instead of sugar, a horrid image that sprang out the moment the cover was raised. The unsuspecting monkey opened the box as usual for his sugar, the jack jumped out, and the monkey, dropping it, rushed to the farthest corner of his cage, and there he remained trembling all day ; no coaxing could get him near the awful box, and it was finally removed from the cage. The next day the genuine box of sugar was put into the cage, but the cautious monkey was not to be caught again. He remained in his corner, and looked distrustfully at the peace-offering. It might be the same terrible box; who could tell ? After a while, however, his desire for sugar led him to venture a little nearer the box, and so, keeping himself at a prudent distance, he went round and round it, trying to make up his mind whether any reasonably safe attempt on the contents of the box were possible. He got nearer, and gave the box a little punch ; then another; then he knocked it about his cage smartly, and no harm came of it. He took it up and carefully inspected it on all sides, and found it apparently quite satisfactory. Then, putting it down, the momentous question of opening the box was quickly decided; he made a rush at the cover, removing it and jumping suddenly back, but no terrible jack appeared. He went cautiously up and looked in; there were his harmless little lumps of sugar, — nothing more.
Never was a monkey happier. He chattered and played all the day long, evidently regarding his fearful experience as an ugly dream, or as the result of a diseased imagination. But his happiness was short-lived ; the next day the jackin-the-box was put in the cage, and again the monkey was frightened and perplexed, and the box had to be removed from the cage as before. Then, in due time, the jack was put back in place of the sugar; and so the poor animal was kept in anxious uncertainty, until he grew thin and nervous, and lost his appetite and sickened, and the experiment was given up. After a time he recovered his health and spirits, and then, just for once, his master thought he would put the jack into the cage, instead of the sugar, to see if the monkey minded it us formerly. The confiding little fellow opened the box, the jack leaped out, and the monkey fell back dead.
At one of his visits about this time Mr. Hunt informed us of his having been invited by a committee to lecture, some Sunday afternoon, in the Horticultural Hall course. We advised him by all means to accept, and he thought perhaps he might. He would take for a subject the connection between religion and art, and he ran on and told us what he proposed to say, talking steadily nearly an hour. After finishing, he said, “ There ! if some one could have taken down what I have been saying, it would be just what I want for the lecture.” I offered to write out in the morning all I could remember, and he gladly accepted the proposal. A week later he had given up all notion of lecturing. The notes that I prepared for him have since been mislaid, much to my regret.
During the spring of 1877 he came often to the house, one evening marching into the study playing Home Sweet Home on a little mouth-organ. We always could tell how things were going with him by the frequency of his visits. When he was happy he came often. If dispirited or anxious over a difficult portrait, or from some other cause, his visits were less frequent. He said to us frankly that he would not come and be a bore, never realizing for a moment that he could not be a bore, whatever his mood. Sometimes he would come when he was not feeling in good spirits, and then we could see that he was exerting himself to be merry. On such occasions he would be more gentle and tender than usual, but there would be lapses in his gayety, and he would sit silent, biting his finger-nails, his thoughts away in his studio or elsewhere.
He was singularly afraid of boring people, and when about to confer the greatest possible boon, namely, the taking of us to his studio, he would beat about the bush, and almost never put the proposition in direct terms : “ I’ve got two or three little things over at the studio that I’m going to show you some time; would you mind going over tonight, or some other night ? I’m sorry it’s so cold, but I rather want you to see the things right off, now ; I can’t wait very well.” Sometimes, after sitting for a half hour or more, he would say, “Well, I came in to-night to ask you to go over to the studio, but, really, I think it an imposition, you are so comfortable here; but I should like you to see a head I’ve just been working on.” This was not an affectation of manner ; it was ever and under all circumstances the same. He always considered that we were doing him a favor to go with him to his studio, and that our acceptance of his invitation was possibly a matter of doubt, as if it were not the greatest possible pleasure to go to his studio and discuss his pictures with him ; we would have gone twenty times oftener if asked. But to the very last his invitations were apologetic or timid, and when he got us before his pictures, in the enjoyment of our admiration and enthusiasm, he would sometimes confess that he came to us a few evenings before for the express purpose of inviting us to his studio ; but after all, he did n’t know that we should like the pictures, and he feared he might be dragging us out too often, and so he said nothing about it.
One evening in May he got upon the subject of pigments. I had started him off by telling him that I had some Veronese green so thin that I could find no effect from it. It resulted in nothing on the canvas.
“ Oh, yes,” said Mr. Hunt, “ I know that kind of green ; the more you put on, the less color you have. It vanishes. It’s too thin to run up-hill. I tell you, if the Frenchmen had to paint with our pigments, you would n’t hear much about their pictures.” “ After all,” he went on to say, “ the nearest thing to nature is a black-and-white drawing. Harmony is the great thing to strive for, and one is surer of this in black and white. In nearly all paintings there is a certain lack of harmony, and therefore a good drawing is more satisfactory. Suggestion of color is better than color itself. What green is to landscape red is to flesh. All landscape painting is too green ; the green should be felt beneath the neutral tint in landscape, just as the red should be felt beneath the gray tones in flesh painting. Both Millet and Correggio paint brown, and then contrast it with a blue that appears blue, but which is really a green. Their pictures do not strike one as brown.”
The last time he was in Paris, Millet told him that he would paint a blonde so that he could put pure white for the highest lights of the face. “ If the effect is harmonious, it makes no difference what key we paint on, high or low ; but, as in music, one must begin and end on the same key. Painting is vulgar by the side of a fine charcoal drawing. Imagination and suggestion are everything in art. Color is vulgar, because it is in the direction of imitation. It is prose instead of poetry. The less imitation the more suggestion, and hence the more imagination and poetry. Drawing as compared with painting is more refined, and therefore truer art.”
During this month we spent a day and night as guests with him at North Easton. With all his endeavors, he was not quite at his best there, being anxious lest our eating and sleeping should not be exactly what he wished; he had brought out from Boston some bananas and other fruits for a supplementary course at dinner. In the evening, on coming in, he asked for a bit of charcoal, to give the effect of a view he had just seen on the river. No charcoal was to be found, so he took a bit of cork, and holding it over the light manufactured his coal, and then drew on a bit of paper a heavy mass of trees against a bright sunset sky, reflecting them in the water below. A brother artist who was with him when he saw the sunset remarked afterwards that Mr. Hunt had got the effect on his bit of paper, and that he had a marvelous facility for remembering and reproducing an impression with a few simple touches.
One evening, this month, Mr. Hunt came to tea, and went with us to a concert, which he heartily enjoyed. Miss Cary was the principal singer, and her appearance and manner on the stage impressed him strongly. After the concert he was full of talk about her breadth of style, her repose, dignity, large impression, and her grand and noble person. She was dressed in white, and looked very large to him. He would like to paint her. She would weigh more than a hundred and eighty, and he would have his painting weigh as much as she. It would take fifteen hundred tubes of white paint. “ Her singing is fine and satisfactory. It has variety of color and tint. Like painting, music requires this.”
It was about this time that Mr. Hunt concluded that bread and milk was the only proper diet for him. When asked if he thought he should ever drink tea or coffee again, he said that he knew he should n’t. At another time he would drink tea and cold water, no wine. Cold water, he argued, was the natural drink for mankind. He never felt so well as when drinking water, and plenty of it. Sometimes, for a month or so, he would not smoke, no matter how mild or how good the cigar offered him. Nothing could shake his resolution in these matters. He would listen patiently to your arguments in favor of moderation ; with the greatest gravity, he would even help you to put them in the most plausible form ; but no practical results followed. In due time he ate and drank and smoked again as other men. At one time he was fond of smoking a very low-priced, mild cigar. For the time being he argued that it was foolish fora man to give more than five cents for a cigar, and he related with great satisfaction how he went into the Parker House, where several persons were about the bar smoking their fine Havanas, and called out in a loud voice, “ Give me a five-cent cigar.” Soon after this we noticed in his studio a box of choice Havanas, so fine that each cigar was provided with its individual bracelet. Putting on his very funniest expression, the artist showed us how he was withdrawing a fine cigar now and then from beneath, and putting its bracelet on to a five cent one, and then slyly filling up the hole with it. In this way, as he explained, he kept his box full of nice cigars.
A lady was describing to him an artist with whom he was unacquainted. “ He is,” she began, “ light complexioned, freckled,”— “Yes, yes, I know,” interrupted Mr. Hunt, “and he always wears brown clothes.” “How did you know? Have you seen him?” “No, I’ve never seen him, but that kind of fellow always wears brown clothes.”
Mr. Hunt was not, in the ordinary sense, a reader; I am sure, at least, that he read few books during the five years of his life that we knew him intimately. His conversation at times pointed to a considerable familiarity with certain parts of the Bible which he had read and discussed with Millet many years earlier, with parts of Shakespeare and with the literature of art. He liked to refer to Hazlitt’s art criticisms and to the poetry of Robert Browning, accrediting the latter with far more correct ideas on art than most of the other poets. He liked also the writings of Taine, and asked us to read what Fromentin said of Rembrandt’s work at the time it appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes. Considering that he read so seldom, it was rather surprising that his want of book knowledge did not make itself more felt; but he remembered everything that he read as well as everything that he heard, and, besides, what he had of his own to say was better than anything in books. He was no reflected light. His talk was more generally the result of his personal experience or observation. Never a gossip, he talked of trivialities only as they afforded him scope for his ever-present love for grotesque narrative. He rarely spoke on current topics such as are discussed in the newspapers, and one seldom got from his conversation the slightest hint of his newspaper reading. It is said that he skimmed a daily paper quite regularly, generally tossing it down after a moment or two, with the remark that “ it is strange people can read such stuff.” He seldom discussed politics, and never voted, so far as I know, after the close of the war. During the war period he was deeply stirred and very loyal. At that time he was a strong republican, but later appeared to have no party preferences whatever, condemning both parties in good round terms. He once spoke favorably of Bristow as a presidential candidate; but he had lately been in bathing with him at the beach, and the latter’s fine, robust figure, which he liked, had, we thought, something to do with his preference.
Mr. Hunt had two long interviews with John Brown, and was greatly impressed by him. He was a marvelous person ; a great hero, like one of the old prophets, he said. He made arrangements to paint his portrait, but meantime Brown went suddenly to his death in Virginia.
Mr. Hunt was very tenacious of cherished opinions, yet never egotistic or overbearing ; always ready to listen to dissenting views, and desirous of modifying or changing his own whenever shown that he was wrong. His opinions in art matters were so well considered, so thoroughly sound, that it was not easy for any one to show him weak points in them. He never seemed to expect anybody to believe a thing because he said it, but was prepared with an abundance of argument and illustration to prove it true. It gave him usually little effort to vanquish an opponent in a discussion on the principles or practice of art, and so deftly would it be done that his adversary’s sense of discomfiture was rather pleasurable and satisfactory than otherwise. Once vanquished, however, one felt that he was to remain vanquished. There were many things in art that Mr. Hunt was not sure about, and these he always spoke of as points that he could not pretend to decide.
He had, as I have said, a remarkable memory. Nothing great or small could escape it. He would recall trivial remarks months and years old. Social engagements, however, he found great difficulty in remembering ; but those who knew him well knew exactly which ones he would remember and which forget. “ Don't let’s name any particular hour. I have n’t got any watch now,” or, “ My watch does n’t keep any sort of time,” or, “Yes, yes, I’ll try and come round. What time did you say?” All this meant that he would forget; but if he looked at one earnestly, and said “ Yes ” to an invitation, without any beating about the bush, it meant yes, and we so understood it. Engagements, he said, were like a millstone about his neck ; they were like a cold buckwheat cake. Other than unimportant social engagements he kept to the very letter, and required others to keep. As a man of business he was exact, and more methodical than is generally supposed.
One evening in the winter of 1877, he came in to spend the evening, and finally got to talking about the Art School at the Museum. It was all very well that the school should not give perfect satisfaction. It would not do to be too easily satisfied. He kept clear of the whole thing as much as possible. “ They make too much fuss over the students. If two per cent. or one per cent. make anything of artists, it is as much as one should expect. Grundemann is painstaking, and perhaps well enough as a teacher ; possibly not broad enough ; but let him go on five years at least before judging of his qualifications. They think over there that the school, if good enough, must make artists. There never was a greater mistake. Why don’t they set up a school to make poets ? All that a teacher can do is to teach. If the stuff is in a pupil he may make a painter. It was the mackerel out of the school that fattened Daniel Webster.” He was quite merry over his answer to some of the committee who asked his views of the proper limits as to the age of pupils to be admitted to the art instruction. He replied that none should be admitted under four years of age, and none above eighty.
Looking at a large landscape in the room, he said, “As a rule, vertical lines darker, horizontal lines lighter; but one can’t paint by rule ; circumstances may require the horizontal lines to be darkest. There is a good effect of light in this sky. Light in the sky or elsewhere is not so well produced by putting dark against it as by a gradation of tone from the dark towards it. Light radiates, and one must try to produce the appearance of radiation to get the highest effect. No matter if the picture be on a low key. Neither, if the gradation is finely done, need the dark be very dark nor the light very light. Atmosphere and light are the great things to work for in landscape painting.”
On another occasion, being asked if a certain landscape painting were not too green, he answered, “ Too green ? No, not too green if you felt like painting green. If one feels like painting green, it’s best to paint green. Under such circumstances it’s of no use to try to paint any other color. If you feel like painting brown or gray, paint those colors.”
In a conversation about the photographing of his pictures, he was asked, in consideration of the fact that yellow came out black, and purple white, in a photograph, why one should not paint with a view to photography, so that the lights and darks would represent the intentions of the artist. “ Because one should not paint with a view to anything but to paint his picture. If you have views of anything beyond that, you do poor, mechanical work.”
Mr. Hunt was especially lenient towards earnest work of young artists. He was severe on pretension and conceit only. Of a portrait he said there was “no inside to it. It looked like a bug that another bug had eaten up all except the shell.”
There was never a question as to how Mr. Hunt should be entertained, for he entertained himself as well as those about him. No subject was too great for him to discuss, and none too small. He interested himself at one time greatly in our Manx cats, discovering that it was difficult to determine their centre of gravity ; that their whole anatomy and movements differed entirely from those of cats with tails. He studied our family of Manx kittens, and finding their nest not sufficiently sumptuous sent one morning, with his compliments, a handsome cat basket, for their use.
Afterwards he was amused to learn that the old cat had found his elegant basket an unsafe repository for her family, and had lugged them off, while her unregenerate, grown-up, fighting son, of fringed ears and bruised aspect, had taken possession of it uninvited, spending his entire days in it and such nights as his professional engagements would permit of.
Mr. Hunt was ready to take part in whatever was going on in the house. One evening his hostess was doing some fancy patchwork, and immediately he became absorbed in its condition and development, requesting the liberty of sewing in a square, which he did on the spot with stitches so neat as to excite extravagant admiration. The delicacy and dexterity of his manipulations were sometimes astonishing. Once, in speaking of his ability to do fine work with the brush, if he chose, he asked for a pencil, and taking a bit of note paper wrote one of our names, made up of seven letters, one of them a capital, so fine that I found a magnifying-glass indispensable for reading it. The space taken up by the seven letters was just one eighth of an inch in length, every letter being firm and distinctly legible. On putting down the pencil he remarked, “ That is n’t nearly as fine as I can write sometimes. I could do much better with a fine-pointed pencil. Still, this is n't easy to do ; just try it.” And we all tried it, and found it impossible. One cold evening a lady complained of a crack on the end of her forefinger that would not heal and was very sore. “ Let me fix it,” said Mr. Hunt. He took out his penknife, sharpened it on his boot, and proceeded to pare the skin down thin at the edges of the crack, not an easy thing to do at the end of the finger, and a task requiring considerable confidence in both patient and operator ; but he did it neatly, and, advising a poultice for the night, promised that it should be a cure in thirty-six hours ; and it was.
I have known him to paint an hour or more on a cow less than an inch and a half in length, supposed to be already finished. He first scraped off the surface of the paint with a knife, giving it a speckled look, and, remarking that he guessed he would make a tortoise-shell cow of it, worked continuously and deliberately with fine sable brushes until he had what he called “ a finished cow.”
For a month or more, at one time, when taking wine in the evening with us, he was in the habit of resting his empty wine-glass on the top of his head. There he would sit on the sofa nodding his head in conversation, but never permitting the glass to fall. The top of his head was very smooth, and we were apprehensive, and this gave great zest to his performance. After a while we became used to this habit, but one evening the wine-glass slid from his head and broke on the carpet. This ended the performance forever ; he could not be persuaded to try it again.
A few evenings later he amused us and himself by substituting for the wine-glass a smooth paper-weight, which he balanced on his head as before ; to vary the entertainment he would now and then put a sheet of paper under the weight, and then snatch it quickly away, leaving the paper-weight undisturbed on his head.
He is said to have practiced putting his soup plate on top of his head at the restaurants, for the convenience of the waiters ; but he did nothing of the kind on the evening when he invited us all to dine with him at a little place behind the Public Library. As usual when entertaining guests, he was over-anxious lest everything should not pass off exactly as he wished, and so behaved more like other people. Still, the occasion seemed to afford him great satisfaction, for when he came to us, a few evenings afterward, he said as he left the door, holding up the fingers of one hand, “ There are only about so many of us in Boston, you know ; we ought to meet in that way oftener.” Who the other three were I never knew with certainty; I could only be sure that one was Mr. Thomas Robinson, for whom he had the tenderest possible friendship. He was an enthusiastic admirer of the talent of his friend, also. Of the head of a bull by Robinson in our possession, he said, “ I don’t believe there is a man living at the present time who could paint this subject as well as Tom has done it in that picture.”
January 18, 1878. Mr. Hunt came in rather late, but seemed desirous that we should go over to his studio and see an unfinished sunset that he was at work on. It promised to be very fine, but for some reason or other it was never completed. He took out from a large depository several other new paintings, notably the two views, almost exactly alike, of Gloucester Harbor. They were of the same tone and on the same key ; but the first was, technically speaking, somewhat smoother, while the second had a little more light in it. The latter was painted with almost inconceivable rapidity, within three hours, and never touched afterwards. I remember also a large landscape, more than twice the size of these, that Mr. Hunt told me was one of two pictures that he had painted in one day. I recall the more important fact that the landscape in question was one of his best and one of the finest I know, exquisitely gray and silvery in tone and masterly in handling, reminding one of Daubigny in composition, but larger in style, and even more vigorous.
He said once, “ I was in a hurry, and wiped my brushes on my pocket handkerchief, and threw it into a pail of water, where it has been for a week.”
He had at this time in his studio a keg of wine made in New York State from native grapes. This he dispensed to us in large goblets, calling it a kind of sweet cider ; it was as harmless as water, he said; you could drink as much as you pleased of it. We found it delicious, of a flavor more tempting than any cider we had ever known, and so we drank a goblet or two of it with great relish. Presently we made the discovery, to Mr. Hunt’s great merriment, that it was a kind of drink that ought to be served in a wine-glass, and as the studio was getting a little warm we started home across the Common, Mr. Hunt accompanying us, ostensibly for the purpose of explaining away the effects of his sweet cider.
A favorite phrase of his in describing or praising a picture was that “ it sings its song.” Not only should every picture sing its song, but usually he required that it should be a cheerful one.
Regarding a fine Dupré, uninteresting in subject and gloomy, he said, “ I admit that it is strong and masterly; I think I recognize all its merits; but if that is the outcome and end of painting, then I don’t wish to paint any more.” Like other great painters before him, Mr. Hunt sometimes held singular views about pictures not in his mood. At such times he allowed comparatively little weight to masterly conception, color, or technique. His cultivated judgment was put aside, and his like and dislike took its place. The intensity of his feeling not only influenced his judgment but for the time being dominated his power of perception, so that red was not red, subtle qualities of color escaped his attention, and he saw no virtue that he was not specially in search of. These characteristics are more or less common to the intense artistic temperament; indeed almost the only conspicuous examples among the great painters of calm, judicial, unbiased opinions upon contemporary work are seen in Rubens and Velasquez. Reynolds is a noteworthy example of the opposite kind.
One evening, Mr. Hunt sat with a cheerful little Dupré in his lap for half an hour, praising it without stint, and the next day shut himself in his studio and painted a brown picture that strikingly recalled the Dupré in color and composition. When I first saw his brown painting, some weeks afterwards, I exclaimed at once, “ There you have a Dupré picture ! ” But the artist made no response, nor did we learn until some time later that it had been painted under the circumstances above stated. Being shown a spring landscape, he studied it over some time, and then exclaimed, “ I ’m going to paint a spring picture ! ” This was near the first of May, and in a few days we were invited to see his new picture, which proved to be the painting that he named Spring Chickens, the original charcoal drawing of which he presented us, possibly as an acknowledgment of our claim for the motive of the new picture.
Being shown a small painting by Kühl, a Munich artist, representing a drunken man holding a half-filled glass of wine in each hand, he remarked, “ It is very skillfully done, but what is the use of doing it ? Why choose such a subject, when pleasant ones are all around us ? The subject is n’t worthy of the painter.”
Of the landscapes of a number of the students of the Munich school in New York be said, “They show the result of good schooling; yes, they have a neat little recipe for skies.” He was very intolerant of everything in painting that savored of a school or established method, and vastly pleased over anything that exhibited evidence of earnest, independent work, no matter how crude. Amateur paintings attracted his attention at once if they happened to have some merit. Now and then we used to put such a picture over the table in the study, in a good light. If there was the least bit of good in it, Mr. Hunt noticed it immediately on entering the room. He would say from across the room, “ Ah, a new picture ! When did you do that? I like it,” or, “You’ve got a good sky; there’s light in it,” or, “That’s amusing; you’ve got a fuller color than usual in your trees.” If the picture pleased him still better, he would go to it, look it over closely to see how it had been done, and then say, “ I like it,” simply, or perhaps add, “ You might have saved yourself these strokes of the brush here in the foreground ; they don’t count for anything.” If, however, the picture put over the table for him to see was too poor, he never appeared to see it. Under such circumstances he would sit over against it all the evening, and never he caught looking at it once. I remember such an occasion, when, having put a little chef d’æuvre, as I half feared and hoped, in its proper place, the coming of Mr. Hunt was impatiently awaited. When at last he came, to our surprise no notice was taken of the new picture. Lest this should be mere accident or oversight, I took great pains during the evening, not to obstruct his sight by getting between him and the cherished object. It was all to no purpose. There was red, white, and blue in the picture, but he did n’t see it.
It is remarkable, considering the provocation to which he was subjected, that he should never have criticised one of these pictures adversely. Occasionally he made suggestions in a quiet, confidential kind of way. For instance, in a picture where, in the middle distance, there were some slim young walnut-trees put against the highest light of the sky, he said, “ I think, perhaps, there is a little too much color in those trees. Against that bright sky I doubt if one would see much color ; they would be more neutral in tone. Still, I ’m not sure about it. I’d think it over before doing anything; but my impression is now that if the color were taken out of the trees it would be truer to nature, and help the picture otherwise. But don’t do it until you think it over ; it’s possible it may be better as it is.”
Being asked if he liked personally a certain young artist, of affected manner and foppish appearance, he replied, “ I don’t know him. I know his clothes. I’ve always known his clothes, but I don’t know him. I can have nothing to do with such a man when I meet him ; I look right through and beyond and around him.”
Starting out, one morning, from his Tremont Street studio for his breakfast, he encountered an old woman on the stairs carrying down a big box of ashes. He at once insisted on lending a hand, and taking half the burden upon himself they landed it on the sidewalk together. “ I did n’t dare to look up,” he said, “ hut I could feel the eyes of people boring into my back.”
June, 1878. Mr. Hunt wrote us from Niagara Falls that he had definitely accepted the contract for painting two large pictures on the walls of the Assembly Chamber at Albany. He had accepted the offer with great hesitation. On one occasion he said he was almost sorry that he had entertained the project at all. It was an immense job. The risk of failure was too great; he had never done anything of the kind. He should feel happier if they would just withdraw their proposal; it would take a load off his mind.
Two weeks later he came home from Niagara, and was enthusiastic over the grandeur of the falls and the artistic beauties of the neighborhood, talking of this subject and the projected Albany pictures the entire evening. He wished one of the Albany paintings to be a large view of Niagara, which he thought he could make attractive for the position, and which would be very appropriate as representing a magnificent bit of scenery within the limits of the State. But the authorities preferred The Discoverer as a companion picture for the Anahita.
His last visit to us before leaving for Albany was on the evening of October 9th. He had been working hard over the large sketches and the separate figures, and was of course anxious as to the success of his great venture and impatient to get at the work in Albany, the beginning of which had been delayed owing to tardiness of some sort there, and which, nevertheless, must be finished by the first of January, so that the chamber should be in order for the meeting of the legislature. He appeared tired, this evening, but was very gentle and kind, and left us the impression that he was already a little homesick in anticipation of his enforced stay at Albany. His mirth seemed forced, and when he left he was quite unnaturally jolly, declaring that it was n’t worth while to say good-by, that he should be back again in Boston in no time, that the time would pass very quickly, and so on.
On October 30th he sent us photographs of the condition of his work at that time, accompanied by the following characteristic letter: —
ALBANY, October 28, 1878.
MY DEAR—: I think I must send you a photograph of the walls as a record of the work thus far. One week at work, and the outlines are about completed, and painting begins, I hope, tomorrow.
I can tell you, it is like sailing a seventy-four, or riding eight horses in a circus. It fills one’s lungs to breathe in front of such spaces. The figure of Columbus, or the Discoverer, is eleven feet from his crown to the boat where his shins disappear. His hand is broader than this page is long. The scaffolding is spacious, and the bridge connecting the two is about seven feet wide and seventy feet long ; so you see everything is in proportion, and it is delightful to work forty feet from the floor.
It will be a great mortification if we don’t succeed. Just think of a twin mortification forty-five by sixteen !
Yours truly, W. M. HUNT.
P. S. It is lucky that I am growing far-sighted and require large print at a distance. Remember me kindly to all.
Soon after the receipt of this letter we heard that he was working very hard, — a part of the night by calcium light, as well as during the whole day, — and we wrote expressing fear for his health, and advising him not to work by night and to take plenty of sleep. This was his answer : —
ALBANY, Sunday, November 24, 1878.
MY DEAR FRIENDS : I received your note of warning not to paint all night, and I follow your advice to the letter, for I paint all day, and should be only too thankful (I think) to have a light of any kind these dark days. As you may imagine, a scaffold ten feet wide throws quite a shadow, when there is light enough to throw anything. We have been obliged for the last week to use torches when we want to see our work clearly, and we begin about nine o’clock, A. M., and come away about six o’clock, p. w. Lunch on board.
Now you need n’t pity us a bit, and this apparent whining is merely a form of brag, or something that we are rather proud of, and something for an excuse to sing about if the things look ill when the staging comes down.
It is good, steady, long-winded work, and enough of it, —that’s just what it it; immensely instructive, I can tell you ; and I can conceive now more readily why those old fellows were not idiots or nigglers in their business, after they had passed a life in front of walls and painted over every large room they had ever lived in.
We have every encouragement here, and our employers are pleased with the work thus far. All the stone-cutters take great interest in it, and that is very encouraging.
We have every advantage here, except that we have had thus far no art critics. I suppose that if we had been assisted by their presence and advice we should have already finished our work.
Oh, it is a luxury to work unsurrounded by whiners !
We can paint horses sky blue if we choose, and nobody begs us to desist.
If the work looks well when it is done, I shall insist on your coming up ; if not — when we meet we ’ll act as though nothing had happened.
Yours truly, W. M. HUNT.
P. S. Have you heard anything of the body in Boston ?
P. P. S. Have there been any traces in Boston ?
P. SSS. If you hear anything of the “ body,” please inform.
The several postscripts related to the search for the stolen body of Stewart, in which, it appears, he had a very active interest.
November 29,1878. Mr. Hunt spent a long evening with us. He had arrived in town the day before, and had intended to pass his first evening at our house, but on calling and finding us out, he had enjoined silence upon the servant, and, trusting to luck that we should hear nothing of him about town, he managed to take us entirely by surprise. He walked in upon us unannounced, and was as happy and light-hearted all the evening as we had ever seen him. The talk naturally turned to his all-absorbing work at Albany, and although he spoke of it as if there were still a possibility of failure, his manner and his happiness told of assured success.
We visited him at Albany on December 24th. He was very cordial and lighthearted, and appeared well satisfied with his work, though a little apprehensive of the critics. After finishing his pictures he took a short vacation in the country, and returned to Boston. He seemed very tired, mentally and physically, at this time, and although cheerful it was not the sunny, wayward cheerfulness of old times. The swollen knee, to which it had been necessary to apply a surgical bandage during the last days of his fatiguing work at Albany, was still a cause of anxiety. Nevertheless, although, as he expressed it, he felt played out, he thought he might begin on some portraits in the course of a week or two. When told that he should not touch a brush for at least two months, and could not possibly get rested sooner, he would not believe it. In about three weeks he began painting, but was forced to stop again and take more rest; he soon resumed work, and did, as is well known, some of the best painting of his life. The Gardner portrait, for example, seems to be in important respects, his best. As a painting it is probably as fine as anything that has been done in America, and takes rank with the best of all time.
He was not well during this winter and spring, and was apt to relapse into an irritable mood and scold the critics in an excitable way. His visits to us were rather infrequent. During the two evenings that he spent with us in March, it was remarked that he had lost his old gayety of manner. He seemed to be conscious of this change himself, and endeavored to make up for it by greater kindness and gentleness. His last evening at our bouse, and the last time we saw him, was on the 7th of April, 1879. He was never more cordial than on this occasion, but all he said and did appeared the result of effort. He said he was very tired, and being offered wine put his hand in his pocket and took out some malt, saying that this was the only wine he allowed himself now. Soon after nine o’clock he said he must go home, so as to get to bed early, and presently, his companion not being quite ready to go, he took her gently by the ear and led her out into the hall, saying, " I must go,” an expression that we had never heard him use before with earnestness. As he passed out of the door with a ringing “Good-night,” one of us said, “ We shall never see him again ; ” the other, " Oh, yes ; he has a splendid constitution. A summer’s rest will bring him all right again.”
Henry C. Angell.