The first American flag, 1926-1927 signed and dated 'Thos. L. Hunt 1926-7' (lower right) oil on canvas 78 x 90in overall: 84 x 96in
PROVENANCE: Collection of The Elks Club, Los Angeles, California, commissioned from the artist, 1926 Christie's, California, Western and American Paintings Auction, November 4, 1988, lot 34 Private collection, Rancho Santa Fe, California
LITERATURE: Ruth L. Westphal, Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, Irvine, California, 1982, p. 149.
Born in Canada, Thomas L. Hunt settled in Southern California in 1924 and became a real estate developer in Hollywood and San Bernardino. At this time, Hunt built a small art studio for himself on the Coast Highway and became involved with the Laguna Beach art colony. Eventually he became a founding member of the Laguna Beach Art Association.
Thomas Hunt was commissioned by the Elks Club of Los Angeles in 1926 to paint a scene that portrayed the raising of the first American flag in California. This scene marked the end of the war with Mexico and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the oldest treaty still in force between the United States and Mexico. As a result of this treaty, the United States acquired more than 500,000 square miles of valuable territory and emerged as a world power in the late nineteenth century.
An ambitious canvas in its size and subject, The First American Flag illustrates the hallmarks of Hunt's unique approach to painting by reducing an image to a few key elements, simplifying both color and form to create an overall patterned design. One critic commented in 1928 that "we feel in his pictures the sparkle and tang which brings to us the life of the sea, for Mr. Hunt is an interpreter of beach scenes and fishing boats. These paintings vibrate with light effects induced by means of broken color. They are decorative and in several of them a pleasing effect is gained by the absence of aerial perspective...Mr. Hunt's painting will delight the observer who loves the vigor and sparkle produced by use of pure color". (Ruth L. Westphal, Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, Irvine, California, 1982, p. 150).