Scottish landscape painter and distinguished portraitist
Sir Herbert James Gunn (also known as Sir James Gunn) was a Scottish landscape artist and distinguished portraitist. He was born in Glasgow in 1893, the son of Richard Gunn, a prosperous draper. Gunn began his training at the Glasgow School of Art and later the Edinburgh College of Art. In 1911, he continued his studies at Académie Julian in Paris under Jean-Paul Laurens. After he left Paris, he travelled to Spain and then spent time in London, where he mostly painted landscapes.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Gunn enlisted with the Artists' Rifles. He subsequently received a commission in the 10th Scottish Rifles and saw active service in France. During the conflict he continued to paint, most notably a work depicting troops on the eve of the Battle of the Somme.
When the War ended, Gunn settled in London and established himself as an eminent and sought after portraitist. He was also a respected landscape painter and traveled widely, exhibiting Paintings of Rome at the Fine Art Society. In January 1919, he married a widow, Gwendoline Charlotte Thorne, with whom he had three daughters. They divorced in 1927 and in 1929 Gunn married Pauline Miller, the model for some of his most famous portraits, with whom he had a son and daughter. From then he devoted himself exclusively to portraits. In November 1939, Gunn offered his services to the War Artists' Advisory Committee and subsequently received three portrait commissions.
Gunn exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery and the Royal Academy, London. He won a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1939 and was was elected President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1953, a post he held until his death. That same year he was elected an Associate member of the Royal Academy and elected a full academician in 1961. Gunn was awarded a Knighthood for services to the arts in 1963.
Gunn's paintings are on show in a number of galleries and there are eleven portraits by the artist in the National Portrait Gallery, London, including his Conversation Piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1950. His commission for the State Portrait of H. M. Queen Elizabeth in 1953 is in the Royal Collection. He also painted notable portraits of King George V, Agnes Catherine Maitland (now in Somerville College's dining hall), and also of Harold Macmillan, in his role as Chancellor of Oxford University.
A major retrospective of Sir James Gunn's work was held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh in 1994, supported with an 80-page catalogue of works.