William Gaunt

1900 - 1980

By Ronan Thomas

William Gaunt was born in 1900, educated at Hull Grammar School and read Modern History at Worcester College, Oxford. He published his first literary critical essay at the age of fourteen in the Connoisseur magazine. After graduation, Gaunt completed an MA at the Ruskin School of Drawing (1922-1926), trained at the Westminster School of Art and worked as a freelance journalist and editor for The Studio magazine. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he produced several pencil, ink and watercolour sketches and oil canvasses depicting scenes of London and Paris.

He went on to enjoy the career of a polymath: as painter, art historian, draughtsman, art critic, special correspondent, war artist, author of illustrated works on the Fine Arts, novelist and travel book writer. In 1930, he exhibited a collection of drawings and paintings – London Promenade - at the Royal Academy and at the Redfern Gallery. He also exhibited work at the Lester Gallery (1932) and at the Reid and Lefevre Galleries (1936). He married Mary Connolly in 1935.

During the Second World War, Gaunt was one of several official war artists commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC) to paint London bomb sites. In 1942, he produced a watercolour of the ruins of St Anne’s Church, Soho, burnt out in air raids on 24 September and 7 October 1940.

Over the next four decades, Gaunt established a reputation as a leading fine arts author, specialising in the 19th century. He published over twenty well-received arts books from 1937-1980. These included: Bandits in a Landscape (1937), The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy (1942), Etty and the Nude (1943), British Painting (1945), The Aesthetic Adventure (1945), Hogarth (1947), William Morris - selections (1948), The March of the Moderns (1949), Victorian Olympus (1952), Renoir (1952), Arrows of Desire (1956), Teach Yourself Sculpture (1957), The Observer’s Book of Painting and Graphic Art (1958), Everyman’s Dictionary of Pictorial Art (1962), Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1963), A Concise History of English Painting (1964), The Observer’s Book of Modern Art (1964), The Observer’s Book of Sculpture (1966), A Companion to Painting (1968), The Impressionists (1970), The Great Century of British Painting (1971), Turner (1971), William de Morgan (1971) , The Restless Century (1972), The Surrealists (1972), Painters of Fantasy (1974), Marine Painting ( 1975) and Court Painting in England: from Tudor to Victorian Times (1980).

Gaunt also wrote the novel The Lady in the Castle (1956) and a series of guide books: Chelsea (1954), London in Colour (1955), Kensington (1958), London (1961), Oxford (1965) and Flemish Cities (1970). He was Art Critic for the Evening Standard in 1946 and exhibited at the Walker Galleries the following year. In 1957, he worked as a special correspondent on arts subjects for The Times newspaper. His retrospective exhibition was held in Colchester, Hull and London in 1975.

William Gaunt died in 1980

Photo:St Anne's, Soho (1942) by William Gaunt

St Anne's, Soho (1942) by William Gaunt

Copyright Westminster City Archives

This page was added by Camilla Bergman on 25/10/2010.
Comments about this page

William Gaunt also translated Vasari's 'Lives of the Artists' for the Everyman's Library.

By Roger Turner
On 18/04/2012

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