Hunt was born in London in 1900. He studied both medicine and architecture
before starting a career as an antique dealer. He opened a shop
in Bury Street, London, and became established as an authority on
medieval art. Gertrude Hartman was born in Mannheim in 1903; she
met John Hunt in London in the early 1930s. They were brought
together through their mutual interest in art and antiques and were
married in 1933. The 1930s were a good time for antique collectors
as European museums were preoccupied with restoring their buildings
after the Great War and American museums had not yet entered the
market. At the end of the 1930s their work moved away from
that of shop-based dealers to a role as advisors to major collections.
The Hunts assisted in the formation of such
international collections as that of Sir William Burrell in Glasgow,
the collection of William Randolph Hearst and that of the Aga Khan.
They also worked as advisors for Sotheby’s, London. It was
in this period, the 1930s and 1940s that the Hunts set
about the formation of their own collection. About 1939 the couple
moved to Lough Gur in Co. Limerick, where Professor Seán Ó Riordáin,
University College Cork, had begun an excavation programme on the
archaeological sites there. During the 1940s and 1950s, John Hunt indulged
his abiding interest in archaeology, working on numerous excavations
there. At Lough Gur he made the first reconstruction of a Neolithic
house. This prototype helped in the later reconstruction of such
a house at the Hunts' own experimental centre at Craggaunowen,
Co. Clare, which was opened to the public in 1975. John Hunt encouraged
Lord Gort to restore Bunratty Castle during the 1950s. In
advising him on the refurbishment of the castle, John Hunt shared
his great knowledge of the medieval period to ensure the historical
accuracy of the project.
1956 the Hunts moved to Drumleck in Howth, Co. Dublin. This move allowed
them room to display their ever growing collection which occupied
every available space in the house. Objects were not displayed chronologically
or according to type as the Hunts believed that they could see
objects with a keener eye if they were removed from their context.
In the 1970s John and Gertrude, aware
of the scale of their collection and wishing to keep it together,
began to look for a permanent location for it to be housed. Initially,
it was thought that it could be housed in Craggaunowen but this
proved too expensive. Then Dr Edward Walsh, President of the National
Institute of Higher Education (now the University of Limerick),
offered to house a substantial part of the collection at the Institute. The Hunt
Museum at Plassey was officially opened in 1978. The collection
remained in the University until 1997 when it moved to its present
location in the restored 18th century Customs House in Limerick city.
John Hunt died in 1976, his wife Gertrude in March 1995, without
either of them living to see the realisation of their dream. Their
two children, John Jr. and Trudy, have continued in their parents'
philanthropic attitude, donating the remainder of the collection
to the Museum. The Hunt Museum stands as a fitting tribute to John
and Gertrude Hunt who assembled this unique collection to be enjoyed
for posterity by every one.