Sir Herbert James Gunn

Le Petit Café, Tuileries

Oil on board: 12(h) x 9(w) in /

30.5(h) x 22.9(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed lower left and right: Jardin Tuileries Herbert Gun 1913; inscribed with the title on the reverse: Le Petit Café/ Tuileries/ 1913

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BT 221



Glasgow 1893 – 1964 London


Le Petit Café, Tuileries


Signed, dated and inscribed lower left and right: Jardin Tuileries Herbert Gun 1913; inscribed with the title on the reverse: Le Petit Café/ Tuileries/ 1913

Oil on board: 12 x 9 in / 30.5 x 22.9 cm

Frame size:



Private Collection, UK



‘It is hard to reconcile the father we knew with the young man who left the close-knit life of a large family in Glasgow to go with twenty golden guineas in a pouch to Paris in 1911. He wrote almost daily postcards home full of the small details of life, the weather, what he had seen at the Louvre on a wet day … A love of Paris remained with him all of his life.”[1]


In 1911, the eighteen-year-old Herbert James Gunn moved from his native Scotland, after a brief period studying at Edinburgh College of Arts, to Paris entirely on his own. He took a room at ‘2 bis rue Perrel’ and enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian, at that time under the instruction of Jean-Paul Laurens, where he remained until 1912. The young Gunn began to paint the city in small, tonally delicate panels, while also making regular visits to the Louvre to draw inspiration from the Old Masters. This bright town scene, lively in colour and brushwork, is thought to have been made on a return visit to Paris in 1913.


Though known primarily as a portrait painter of the mid-twentieth century’s leading figures, Gunn was also an accomplished painter of landscapes and town scenes such as this elegant paysage urbain. Le Petit Café, Tuileries was painted after the artist returned from living in Paris. He was commissioned by the London art dealer, W. B. Paterson, to go to Spain at the beginning of 1914, ‘where he travelled, seeing and painting, till the echoes of the Sarajevo warned that the good days were soon to end.’[2] It is thought, by Gunn’s daughter Chloë, that this work could have been executed on his way to Spain and that its immediacy demonstrates, through his loose brushwork and the exposed board to which the oil has been applied with haste, that it was painted in the Tuileries Gardens with Parisian life jostling about him. Le Petit Café, Tuileries directly illustrates the freedom that painting en plein air provided the artist. As the city and its inhabitants move and interact with one another, Gunn captures this fleeting moment with the precision of an Impressionist, the dappled sunlight breaking through the trees and dancing upon the faces of his unsuspecting subjects.


The Jardin des Tuileries, situated in the heart of Paris, are vast ‘pleasure-gardens’ that stretch between the Musée du Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. The gardens, which run alongside the Seine and the Rue de Rivoli, are viewed as a cultural walking place for Parisians and tourists alike. Star-studded with statues; here the sculpture of Aristide Maillol stands side-by-side with that of Rodin and Giacometti, all kept within the shadows of the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.



We are grateful to Chloe Gunn for her assistance with the cataloguing of this work. 




Sir Herbert James Gunn, Notre Dame from the Banks of the Seine, 1913

Oil on canvas attached to board: 21.9 x 26.8 cm

Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow


Glasgow 1893 – 1964 London


Herbert James Gunn, later known as Sir James Gunn, achieved fame as a distinguished portraitist; he was also a talented painter of landscapes and seascapes. Born in Glasgow, the son of a prosperous draper, he began his training at the Glasgow School of Art and the Edinburgh College of Art. He then continued his studies in Paris at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. At the outbreak of the First World War, Gunn enlisted with the Artists’ Rifles and served with the 10th Battalion Scottish Rifles in 1917. 


When the War ended, Gunn settled in London and established himself as an eminent and sought-after portraitist. In January 1919, he married a widow, Gwendoline Charlotte Thorne, with whom he had three daughters. They divorced in 1927 and in 1929 Gunn married Pauline Miller, the model for some of his most famous portraits, with whom he had a son and daughter. He exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery and the Royal Academy, London. He won a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1939 and was elected President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1953. That same year he was elected an Associate member of the Royal Academy and made a full member in 1961. Gunn was awarded a Knighthood for services to the arts in 1963. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh in 1994.


There are eleven portraits by the artist in the National Portrait Gallery, London, including his Conversation Piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1950. His commission for the State Portrait of H. M. Queen Elizabeth in 1953 is in the Royal Collection. The work of Sir Herbert James Gunn is also represented in the collections of the Aberdeen City Council; University of Aberdeen; Queen’s University, Belfast; University of Birmingham; University of Bristol; Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; University of Cambridge; Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura; The Stewartry Museum, Dumfries and Galloway; Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery, West Dunbartonshire; Dundee Art Galleries and Museums; University of Dundee; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Edinburgh, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh Council; Essex County Council; the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde; Royal Court House, Jersey; King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum, Lancaster; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; the British Museum, Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Government Art Collection, Guardian News & Media Archive, Imperial War Museums, National Maritime Museum, Parliamentary Art Collection, RIBA, Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Holloway, Royal London Hospital Museum & Archive, Royal College of Physicians, Tate Britain, University of London, City of Westminster Archives Centre and the Fleming Collection, London; University of Manchester; National Trust; University of Oxford; Oxford Town Hall; Pewsey Heritage Centre; Plymouth Guildhall; Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston; Touchstones, Rochdale; Museums Sheffield; The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent; University of Strathclyde; Surrey County Hall; Ulster Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland and National Museum Wales.


[1] Chloë Gunn, “A memoir by Chloë Gunn”, Sir James Gunn 1893-1964 (ed. Timothy Clifford), exh. cat.,  Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 1994, p.30.

[2] The artist cited in “Gunn on Gunn”, ibid., p.10.


Modern BritishSir Herbert James Gunn