The present composition, is dominated by blasts of almost-overwhelming colour, most particularly in the upper half of the composition, where the still life of roses is set against an exotic Japoniste backdrop of cloth or wallpaper which provides a powerful foil for the vase of roses and the white table cloth on which it stands. It has been widely remarked that colour was Hunter’s primary hallmark. John Ressich, in the forward to Hunter’s 1932 Memorial Exhibition catalogue wrote ‘Colour drew him like a magnet and he could find it everywhere – in a Fife hamlet – the canals of Venice – the foothills and the plages of the Riviera – a Scottish loch – the parks of London’, and Hunter himself wrote, ‘Everyone must choose his own way, and mine will be the way of colour’. Still Life with Roses and Fruit shows Hunter at the height of his powers as true Colourist painter, working in the still life idiom. It is imbued with the colour influence of Pierre Matisse and shows knowledge of Hunter’s examination of Cézanne’s theories on colour and composition.
S.J. Peploe, friend a fellow Scottish Colourist commented that ‘Hunter at his best […] is as fine as any Matisse’.
Still Life with Roses and Fruit has never been sold and has not been exhibited previously. It was originally acquired from the artist by Dr Ronald Alexander Stewart and it has remained in his family, by descent, ever since. Hunter was a patient of Dr Stewart, General Medical Practitioner in the West End of Glasgow in the 1920s. The present work is one of two oil on canvas still life compositions given to Dr Stewart by Hunter, while the paint was still wet. The corresponding still life is of the same dimensions and has the same frame as Still Life with Roses and Fruit. It is also known that Hunter painted a portrait of Dr Stewart, however, its whereabouts is no longer known.
T.J. Honeyman, the artist’s close friend and biographer wrote ‘When you read the story of his life in the light of his work it will not be difficult to give a name to his pictures. You will not ask to see ‘a painting by Leslie Hunter’ – you simply say, ‘a Leslie Hunter’ – some day it may be ‘a Hunter’. There is really nothing abstruse or intricate about this, for it is the formula for all art worthy of survival’ (see T. Honeyman, Introducing Leslie Hunter, London, 1937, pp. 213-214).
Dr Ronald Alexander Stewart (1891-1963) was a General Practitioner in the West End of Glasgow during the 1920s, having served in the R.A.M. Corps during the First World War. In January 1917 he married Mary Young, who as a young woman went to art school in Glasgow and was very interested in local artists. They lived together in Glasgow at 5 Ashton Terrace until the mid 1930s, with Dr Stewart running his practice from home – which was also where his son was born in 1922 and his daughter 12 years later. They subsequently moved to 40 Balshagray Avenue, from where he continued to practise to great repute. Both of his children continued the family career in medicine, his son specialising in psychiatry. Other doctors in Glasgow would send my Dr Stewart cases that related to his interest in ‘psychological medicine’ and this is how he came to treat the artist, G.L. Hunter. Dr Stewart’s son remembered, as a boy, the arrival of the paintings and their causing great excitement and that they were ‘still wet’. He recalls they had to wait a considerable time to frame them and add glass. They still have the original frames, however, the glass was removed.