John Durell Hunt (known as ‘Jack’) was born on 28 May 1900 in Hertfordshire, England to John Hunt Sr and Effie Jane Sherry. He was the eldest of six children. John’s Irish ancestry was on his mother’s side. His great grandmother was born in Tuam, Co. Galway. At age six he was sent to boarding school and eventually went to The King’s School, Cambridge. John served two years of military service between 1918-1920 after which he enrolled to become a doctor in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.
In 1933, John married Gertrude Hartmann, from Mannheim in Germany. They shared a love of art, history and design. During this time, he began buying and selling works of art. He worked with international museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, famous collectors such as William Burrell (whose collection is now the Burrell Museum) and well-known antique shops and dealerships such as Christies and Sothebys.
In 1934 John opened an antique shop and gallery on Bury Street, London. Queen Mary, wife of King George V, was a regular customer of John’s shop. Throughout the 1930s, John and Gertrude travelled across Europe collecting objects from antique shops, churches, art museums and other collectors. John did not always sell what he collected as he enjoyed collecting objects and displaying them in his house.
In 1940, John and Gertrude moved to Lough Gur, Co. Limerick. Archaeological excavations were underway at Lough Gur by Seán P Ó Ríordáin and University College Cork. John worked alongside Ó Ríordáin as an amateur archaeologist. He became known as a local expert in archaeological finds. Local people would bring objects to him which they had found while ploughing fields. Some of these prehistoric artefacts found at Lough Gur are in the Hunt Museum today.
While living in Limerick, John and Gertrude continued to grow their collection by buying and selling objects. John and Gertrude also decorated their house in Lough Gur with their antique collection. Medieval statues and tapestries were on display, medieval pottery was used as everyday utensils and famous artworks adorned their walls.
In 1954 John and Gertrude left Limerick and moved to Dublin. John remained involved in archaeology in Limerick and Clare while Gertrude spent a lot of time in London buying and selling art. In 1957 and 1958 they adopted two children: John Junior and Trudy.
The Hunt Museum
In 1976 John and Gertrude decided to donate all of the objects to the people of Ireland. The Irish Government declined the offer of the Collection leading to the establishment of The Hunt Museum Trust in 1974 to hold in trust on behalf of the people of Ireland both their collection and the 16th century Irish tower house at Craggaunowen ( which had been restored by the Hunts).
The Trust established The Hunt Museum Ltd. Under the chairmanship of Dr Tony Ryan, this company created the Museum as we see it today. A public/private partnership involving the University of Limerick, Shannon Development, Limerick Corporation and the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands secured the historic 18th-century former Customs House in Limerick city. They also secured the funds to restore and renovate the building to international museum standards.
Plans were made to put the collection into a museum for everyone to see. It all paid off when the Hunt Museum was opened in the old Customs House in Limerick City in 1996. The Museum was officially opened by An Taoiseach, John Bruton, on 14 February 1997. While John nor Gertrude Hunt lived to realise their dream, the Hunt Museum stands as a monument to their enthusiasm, curiosity and generosity.
John Hunt Junior, adopted son of John and Gertrude Hunt ran and improved the museum until his untimely death in 2008.