I will never forget the first time I saw one of Michael Hunt’s paintings. I was in High Point, North Carolina in the spring of 1996 at the International Home Furnishings Market for my job at Winterthur in licensed products. My colleague and I were doing market research. We were looking for potential licensees in product categories we had determined would be valuable additions to our program of licensed manufacturers. What caught our attention in one showroom was not the ceramics and decorative art we had come to see, but the wonderful paintings on the walls.
When we asked about the artist we were directed to another showroom some blocks away that was showcasing companies and individuals from England. We went there immediately and were thrilled to see more of Michael Hunt’s work. What struck me about Michael’s work was his masterful depiction of light in the rooms and the way light reacts on different sources. On a return trip to the showroom we were delighted to meet Michael and his lovely wife Rosemary.
As we gazed at Hunt’s paintings of European interiors, my colleague Cathy Maxwell eloquently described the extraordinary rooms and landscape at Winterthur and invited Michael to visit the estate. To our delight he accepted and spent a week at Winterthur exploring the museum from top to bottom and walking in the garden and surrounding woodlands and meadows. Hunt loved what he saw. He quickly recognized the parallels between Winterthur and the great country houses of England and felt a great empathy for Henry Francis du Pont and his vision.
Upon returning to his home near Sandwich, Michael embarked on his first painting in a series that will ultimately include some 200 depictions of Winterthur. The works range from scenes of room interiors to views of special exhibitions and events as well as images of the garden and grounds. In subsequent visits to the estate, Michael has developed an archive and memory bank of Winterthur in all seasons and various nuances of light. Drawing on those images and memories, he has amassed an impressive body of work.. He considers the project a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and has refrained from exhibiting and selling any of the paintings because he felt that it was important to keep them together as a collection.
I was fortunate to visit with Rosemary and Michael in their gallery in Sandwich in May 2007. What a joy when I entered the gallery to find that they had taken down their current offering and had filled the rooms with the paintings of Winterthur! I was thrilled to see so many hung together! There were so many of my favorite rooms including rooms that few visitors to Winterthur get to see. The Philadelphia Bedroom, the Federal Parlor, and the Tappahannock Room were all so beautifully depicted and filled with atmosphere and marvelous detail.
The exhibition Painted Rooms: An Artist’s Vision of Winterthur, which opens in the Winterthur Fellows Gallery in November, marks the first time any of Hunt’s Winterthur paintings have been on display. I can’t wait to see some of my favorites as well as new paintings. This will be a unique opportunity to see Winterthur through this artist’s vision.
Kristin Langerak DeMesse is Winterthur’s Director of Licensed products; Delaware native; graduate of University of Delaware in art history.