Scottish Colourist, George Leslie Hunter did not live to an old age; passing away suddenly at the age of fifty-four. Fortunately for subsequent appreciators of his work, the friends and staunch supporters he made during his lifetime included influential members of the Scottish art establishment; most notably Professor T. J. Honeyman, a former doctor and collector turned dealer and curator. Clearly invested in their friend's career and welfare, we are left with an unusually comprehensive record of his life and work, as told through the eyes of those who knew him, and his work, well. We are therefore able to understand exactly how, and under what circumstances, many of his artworks were executed, and enabled genuine insight into what Hunter was striving to achieve artistically during each period. The work offered here for sale is an excellent example of this unique level of understanding we are offered into the artist's motivations.
Tulips was painted in 1930, and is representative of a new chapter in his painting style at this time. We know that Hunter had been forced to return to Glasgow in 1929 having suffered a steep downturn in health while in the South of France. A recurring pattern in his life was to severely neglect his well-being whilst in the throes of artistic inspiration, or whilst suffering mentally in the aftermath of a disappointing exhibition or review. He had recovered well whilst under the care of his sister, though he was finding the reaction from the Glasgow Art Club towards his latest artistic developments depressing.
Hunter was moving steadily towards a loosening of technique which involved a paring back of form and an increasingly vivid palette. For the last decade, he had progressed through a period of immensely complex formal arrangements and technical, patterned brushwork. This energetic, freer form was less a regression in skill, as some critics at the time perceived, but rather evidence of the fruition of a sophisticated fluidity in his handling; an organic development in style and virtuosity. There is an obvious pleasure and an absence of struggle or labour in his works of this period. To his biographers, including Honeyman himself, this work was the best of his career; not least because Hunter quickly began to develop an unshakeable belief in the merits of this latest direction, a fact tangible to the viewer.
What is also obvious in works like Tulips, is that they belong to the same cheerfully progressive world as Matisse. Indeed, we know that at this time Hunter was directly reinvigorated by the stunning example of Matisse's work, La Nappe Rose, belonging to his friend, the Glasgow collector McInnes. Hunter's connection with this painting was a significant and deep one. He and McInnes had travelled to Paris together in 1925, where they had viewed a new exhibition of the artist's work. Encouraged by an infectiously enthusiastic Hunter, McInnes purchased the work in question, which is now held in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow.
"At first glance Tulips appears to have a far freer feel but its simplicity belies the extent of manipulation employed by Hunter. The paint is thin and flat but he brings out the vitality of the flowers and beauty of the objects through his astute use of colour." Bill Smith & Jill Marriner, Hunter Revisited, 2012, pp.162,162, Ill.141
As well as the clear inspiration the picture offered in terms of vitality of tone and simplicity of structure, it likely resonated with happy memories for Hunter, whose own artwork was receiving much critical praise in the mid-1920s. It must be remembered that Hunter enjoyed a window of time where he was recognised internationally as a modernist of developing importance. In a letter to a friend in 1924, for example, Hunter references a particularly interesting commendation from the prominent Parisian art dealer, Etienne Bignou: "Bignou told McNeill (a collector) he thought Matisse the only man in Paris the equal of Peploe and myself."
That Tulips entered McInnes' art collection is not, therefore, a great surprise. It is gratifying that key dealers and collectors continued to support Hunter through these latter important developments in his career, though of course tragic that these strides were to be cut short just a year later when the artist sadly and suddenly passed away.