William Gaunt

Both Marina Vaizey and Edward Chaney have reminded me of the writings of William Gaunt.   As a teenager, I remember reading his books about Victorian art, particularly The Aesthetic Adventure, which was a pioneering and extremely well written account of the aesthetic movement, and Victorian Olympus about Victorian classicism, both written at a time when Victorian art was still deeply unfashionable.   He was, as Marina has pointed out, representative of an era when studies of British art were written by men of letters, rather than academics.   Gaunt was the child of a chromolithographer, fought in the first world war, and then studied modern history at Oxford where he was a friend of Cyril Connolly and John Rothenstein.   He then went to the Ruskin and worked as a freelance artist.   Unlike Whitley, he doesn’t get an entry in DNB, presumably because he was an amateur.


10 thoughts on “William Gaunt

  1. Dick Humphreys says:

    I met WG back in the 1970s when working on a PhD on Wyndham Lewis, who Gaunt knew well. He lived in a small basement flat of the shabby genteel variety in Notting Hill when such places were quite abundant. He was utterly charming.

  2. marinavaizey says:

    He wrote vividly also for the Times, and is an unjustly forgotten figure; his eloquent, elegant, succint and witty books were learned, strong and really influential as they could be read by anybody, of all ages as totally free of jargon, and even better although many may not have recognised this, free of received opinion; his opinions were his own, and at the time original. He certainly should be in the DNB. I think he was a very modest figure as well and did not push himself forward…..

  3. Amanda Kinsman says:

    I was obsessed with the Aesthetic Adventure as a teenager and at my utterly Philistine boarding school in Westmorland, (as it was still called then) I used to carry it around as a talisman.

  4. Edward Chaney says:

    Gaunt’s Aesthetic Adventure was what first inspired Jeremy Maas, father of the less retiring Rupert, to discover and pioneeringly deal in Victorian art. Gaunt had started out in the 1920s and ’30s writing in the Studio about contemporaries such as Harry Morley and Wyndham Lewis, with whom he managed to maintain a friendship (he presents Lewis with a copy of his Bandits in a Landscape in 1937)… There are so many dead white european males missing from the ODNB, even Irish ones; eg all three Collis brothers, and the great Guernsey novelist G.B. Edwards.

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