Metro

Robert Douglas Hunter, 86; artist

Artist Robert Douglas Hunter, who was trained in the Boston School tradition, worked on a project in January 1961.
Lenscraft Photos
Artist Robert Douglas Hunter, who was trained in the Boston School tradition, worked on a project in January 1961.

“The only thing I ever wanted to do was paint,” Robert Douglas Hunter told the Globe in 1991.

And that was what he did, family and friends say, from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, on canvases illuminated by northern light in homes in Walpole, Needham, Orleans, Provincetown, and Boston.

Known for still-life paintings and drawings that are exceptionally realistic, as well as for his landscapes and portraits, Mr. Hunter created countless works during a career that spanned 60 years.

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“Painting is easy,” he told the Globe in 1980 as he described rendering paintings of objects found in the household or in nature. “It’s seeing that is hard.”

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Mr. Hunter died Aug. 14 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of pneumonia and respiratory failure. He was 86 and lived in Walpole.

Mr. Hunter was celebrated for his work in the Boston School tradition, influenced by French Impressionism and emphasizing accuracy, color, and light. In addition to creating award-winning work, Mr. Hunter showed kindness as a mentor and an instructor, fellow artists recalled.

He taught for 30 years at his alma mater, the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, which closed in 1983, and for a decade at the Worcester Art Museum. He also taught private lessons, many of which were impromptu.

“He was a born teacher, always so encouraging with younger students,” said painter Jean Lightman, president of the Guild of Boston Artists, a nonprofit gallery on Newbury Street that Mr. Hunter led from 1973 to 1978. “He was also a great communicator, an amazingly eloquent spokesperson about the Boston School.”

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The “witty and delightful” artist often invited novices and students to take their brushes, canvases, and easels outside and paint alongside him, she said.

That was the case with John Murphy, who was studying art in Boston in the 1960s when he discovered Mr. Hunter’s work.

“I couldn’t believe someone could actually paint like that,” Murphy said. “The accuracy, the reflections, the colors — it was all just incredible.”

He said he was struck by one of Mr. Hunter’s still-life paintings that was so realistic “it looked like he’d just picked up the vase off the table and walked away with it.”

Murphy left painting for a career as a restaurateur, but over the years he continued following Mr. Hunter and bought his work when possible. He met Mr. Hunter at a gallery in the early 1980s, and they reconnected in Orleans, where Murphy owns a restaurant.

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Murphy said that when “I told him I hadn’t held a brush in 20 years,” Mr. Hunter’s response was, “Grab your paints and come with me.” At 5:30 the next morning they went to the Fort Hill Trail in Eastham, and Murphy has been painting ever since.

“Bob brought me back into the art world,” he said, describing Mr. Hunter as a man who was “not selfish at all” and would “extend all his knowledge to anyone who was interested.”

Murphy regularly turned to Mr. Hunter for help when planning exhibitions of his own work.

“Bob would correct something that was wrong, but always in a way that was helpful and made you feel good about it,” he said. “He was always available to give an opinion, or help, or advice, to anybody.”

Robert Douglas Hunter was born in Dorchester in 1928 and grew up in West Roxbury. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1945, and served in the Marine Corps for two years.

In 1949, he graduated from the Vesper George School of Art, and then studied with the artist and writer R.H. Ives Gammell through 1955 in Gammell’s studio on Ipswich Street.

There Mr. Hunter developed a friendship with his mentor’s goddaughter, Elizabeth Ives Valsam, whose father worked with Gammell. She recalled that Mr. Hunter, 17 years her senior, would help her rummage through a studio closet to find props she used to play dress up.

“I developed a mad crush on Bob Hunter when I was 8,” she said. “When I told him he said, ‘We’ll see.’ ”

A decade and a half later, she was working as a banker when her father commissioned Mr. Hunter, then 40, to paint her portrait. Less than a week after the portrait was finished, she said, Mr. Hunter invited her to dinner and proposed. They married in a chapel on Beacon Hill in 1968, and the painting, “Portrait of Liz,” is on display as part of a retrospective of Mr. Hunter’s work at the Guild of Boston Artists through Nov. 1.

In the early 1980s, the couple settled in a farmhouse in Needham where N.C. Wyeth once painted, and Mr. Hunter’s wife left the world of finance to become an art historian and curator.

Mr. Hunter’s work ethic was “nothing short of amazing,” his wife said. He might take a day off if one of his three children had an activity, “but he would make up for it on Sunday afternoon.”

“Painting was a job to him,” she added, “and it was a job he loved.”

She said her husband “exuded serenity” and that he always aimed “to create, with random objects, a painting that would provide a serene sense of order.”

Mr. Hunter told the Globe in 1991 that his work was “the only thing in my life I had control of,” and that painting still lifes was “a compulsion, a reflection of the need for order and harmony.”

He belonged to many arts organizations, and his work drew honors such as the John Singleton Copley Award. In 2001, the Cape Cod Museum of Art created a gallery in his name.

A service has been held for Mr. Hunter, who in addition to his wife leaves two daughters, Catherine Hunter Kashem of Sudbury and Dorothy of Walpole; a son, Nathaniel of Somerville; and a grandchild.

“He had a wicked sense of humor,” his wife said. “Very often he wouldn’t say anything, but an eyebrow arch and a roll of his eyes could reduce me to gales of laughter.”

She added that he had a gift for “making you feel that talking to you was the most important thing he’d ever done.”

“He was generous in every way,” she said. “He loved his art, he loved his family. He was just a wonderful, kind person.”

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@verizon.net.