Esther Anna Hunt Biography

Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, Esther Hunt became a painter focused on Oriental themes, especially portraits and figures she did from models that she found in Chinatown in San Francisco. She spent some of her early childhood in Columbus, Nebraska.  Her father, Stephen Barton, died when she was four years old in 1879, and two years later her mother remarried, and the family went to California.  Her stepfather was Captain John A. Frazier, and he took his wife and her children to San Diego County where he acquired 700 acres of land and established the town of Carlsbad.  In 1893, the family moved to Los Angeles, and from 1896 to 1900, Esther Hunt was listed in the City Directory as an artist.

In 1901 she enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco, and financed her education with paintings of Chinatown child genre figures and portraits.  They became popular and widely circulated when she perfected a color process to make reproductions, which featured the colorful costumes of the children.   A marketing agent sold them in the East. Making money, she traveled to New York City and enrolled in the Art Students League from 1903 to 1905 and studied with William Merritt Chase in New York and in Paris for six years.  In Paris she studied portraiture.  During her career when she had returned from Europe, she had studios in Los Angeles from 1913-1918,  San Francisco from 1918 to 1926, Greenwich Village in New York from 1927 to 1931, San Francisco from 1932 to 1945, and Santa Ana until her death in 1951.

When she returned to Los Angeles in 1913, she again took up her interest in Chinese subjects and made many painting trips to San Francisco.  Settling there in 1918, she devoted most of her attention to Oriental subjects and had a nation-wide market for her paintings, prints, postcards, and colored ceramic figurines.  She also did portraits of children in France, beach scenes at Laguna and Native American women and children from the Pomo of northern California.

Member: Laguna Beach AA. Exhibited: American WC Society, 1908; Detroit Museum, 1909; Panama-California Expo (San Diego), 1915 (gold medal); SFAA, 1916;  and the Paris Salon.

Sources: Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West; Sternberg, Art by American Women; Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940.