Though known primarily as a portrait painter of the mid-twentieth century’s leading figures, Herbert James Gunn was also an accomplished painter of landscapes and town scenes such as this. After a brief period studying at Edinburgh College of Arts, the eighteen-year-old Gunn moved from his native Scotland to Paris in 1911. He took a room at 2 bis rue Perrel and enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian, at that time under the instruction of Jean-Paul Laurens, where he remained until 1912.
The young Gunn began to paint the city, while also making regular visits to the Louvre to draw inspiration from the Old Masters. In a memoir written for the artist’s exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1994, Chloë Gunn recalled: ‘A love of Paris remained with him all of his life.’
Herbert James Gunn was born in Glasgow, 30th June 1893. He studied at the renowned Glasgow School of Art of René Mackintosh fame and subsequently at the Edinburgh College of Art. However, though a Scot by birth and artistic training, Gunn was to develop a style very much his own, an ‘international’ modern style imbued with influences from French Impressionism, modern British painting and his Scottish heritage.
Following his studies at Edinburgh Gunn travelled to Paris enrolling at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens.
On his return to England, Gunn rapidly established himself as a leading painter of portraits in addition to landscapes and conversation pieces. Gunn exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1923, at the Royal Scottish Academy and in Paris, where in 1931 he was awarded a silver medal at the Société Artistes Français and a gold medal at the Paris salon of 1939.
Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s Gunn’s reputation as a portrait painter increased, he was to become the portrait painter of choice to Society and the Establishment, in 1953-54 Gunn reached his apogee as a portrait painter with the commission to paint the state portrait of H.M. The Queen.
Gunn was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1945 and President in 1953, the same year being elected ARA and a Royal Academician in 1961, Gunn was also a member of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers.
A highly successful artist, Gunn was knighted in 1962 for his services to the arts; he died at his home in Hampstead, London on 30th December 1964.
The Royal Collection
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Gallery, London
The National Galleries, Scotland.