George Leslie Hunter was born at Rothesay on the Island of Bute on the west coast of Scotland in 1877 but emigrated with his family to California in 1892. Always keen on drawing and sketching, Hunter made his living as an illustrator while teaching himself to paint. By 1904 he had saved enough to finance a prolonged visit to Paris. He was aware of the exciting artistic developments underway in France and was anxious to experience things at first hand. Hunter’ s first visit to France was instrumental in his decision to become a painter rather than an illustrator but any indication of the immediate impact of it on his work disappeared when the paintings in his first major exhibition were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
When Hunter returned to Scotland in 1907, he was still having to support himself through his work as an illustrator and was hardly even known by his peer group in the art world. While Fergusson, Peploe and Cadell travelled frequently to Paris and by 1910 were producing some of their most original and exciting work, Hunter had hardly begun his career. What little work of the period that survives indicates a debt to early Dutch paintings rather than any real ‘ colourist’ inclination; still life was Hunter’ s main theme, normally painted on a black background. It was not until 1914 when he visited Etaples on the northern coast of France that one starts to see the emergence of his colourist talent.
It is not clear how Hunter and his work became known to Alexander Reid, but this association was the critical factor in launching Hunter’ s career. Reid had been impressed enough by Hunter’ s work to give him his first solo exhibition in 1916 at his gallery in Glasgow. The exhibition found favour with the critics and more importantly, the association with Reid introduced Hunter to a group of patrons who were to support him for the next fifteen years.
This relative financial security allowed Hunter to visit Europe. His trips to Italy, via Paris, in 1922 and 1923, in some way mirrored the other Colourists’ visits to France two decades earlier. Hunter was looking for continental inspiration and without doubt, one can see a bolder and more intense use of colour in the Still Life and landscape paintings of the mid 1920’ s. Despite being plagued with recurrent ill health during the 1920’ s, Hunter exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1923, at the Galerie Barbazanges in Paris in 1924 with Peploe, Cadell and Fergusson and again at the Leicester Galleries in 1925.
By now, the more subtle Cezanne inspired domestic landscapes were giving way to more riotous use of bold colour more reminiscent of Matisse, perhaps influenced by Hunter’ s regular visits to the South of France, which began in 1925. There he met Fergusson and Peploe in Cassis and was first introduced to the delights of St Paul de Vence. A happy association developed with the now renowned restaurant and hotel La Colombe d’ Or (where Hunter’ s paintings still hang) and it was to St Paul that Hunter returned after his exhibition in New York in 1929. Hunter returned to Glasgow later in 1929 and died there in 1931.