Harry J. Sunter


Harry J. Sunter (c1850-1900)
Harry Sunter is one of the most accomplished and mysterious artists to have worked in the Finger Lakes, around Auburn, NY, in the late 19th C. There is a remarkable painting of his in the collection of the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, “The Great Scull Race of July 4, 1878 at Skaneateles”, showing a race and celebration on the lake in downtown Skaneateles. He exhibited in the late 1880’s at both the National Academy of Design and at the Pennsylvania Academy but then suddenly disappeared from the scene.

Research at the Cayuga County Museum from the “Painters of Auburn” file by A. T. Van Laer in 1918 reveals this brief biography:

“When I first knew Sunter he was operating a camera in the gallery of Teneyck’s Copying House. On pleasant days, when he found the time to go sketching, I tried to go with him. Usually he went somewhere on the Outlet or at Buck’s Point on the lake and I used to watch him work. This was when I had begun to draw as a student at the Academy and as yet knew little of color, so it became my pleasant part to watch the mysteries of Sunter’s deft handling, as the bright tints of his palette found their way to the fast developing sketch on the canvas. It was marvelous to me then how he did it. Sunter had somehow imbibed Clough’s methods and later developed a pleasing sense of the picturesque. He too loved the sunshine, and I am sure, had he lived he would have taken in a large measure Clough’s place in the affections of Auburnians.

“Sunter made a trip to Block Island one summer and I shall never forget the eagerness with which we awaited his coming and the enthusiasm with which we looked through his summer’s work. Sunter did not live long after this and we have only the brilliant promise of what might have been a successful career.”

Other notes in the artist’s files at the museum show Sunter was also a student of William Henry Yates and he was probably a friend and colleague of William Bruce. A 1939 letter to Professor Long at the museum from Henry M. Allen of Auburn states that Harry Sunter married the sister of The Schweinfurth brothers, architects, who later funded the new Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn.

Sunter’s paintings turn up occasionally. A beautiful marine landscape of South Beach, Nantucket, dated 1885 was shown at Vose Galleries (see below) in Boston in 1996. His very accomplished local landscapes turn up in Skaneateles and Auburn and are highly regarded today. Many date from the late 1880’s. He must have passed away soon after this.

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