Richard Morris Hunt (October 31, 1827–July 31, 1895) was probably the best-known American architect of the nineteenth century and a preeminent figure in the history of American architecture. Hunt was, according to design critic Paul Goldberger writing in The New York Times, "American architecture's first, and in many ways its greatest, statesman." Aside from Hunt's lasting impact on the face of New York City, he founded both the American Institute of Architects and the Municipal Art Society.
Born at Brattleboro, Vermont, Hunt was the son of Jane Maria Leavitt, born to an influential family of Suffield, Connecticut, and Hon. Jonathan Hunt, a U.S. congressman whose own father was the lieutenant governor of Vermont, and scion of a wealthy and prominent Vermont family. Richard Morris Hunt was the brother of the Boston painter William Morris Hunt, and the photographer and lawyer Leavitt Hunt. (Hunt was named for Lewis Richard Morris, a family relation, who was a U.S. Congressman from Vermont and the nephew of Gouverneur Morris, an author of large parts of the U.S. Constitution.)
Following the early death of his father, Hunt's mother took the family to Europe, where they remained for more than a decade, first in Switzerland and later in Paris. Hunt began his education at the Boston Latin School, but after the family's move to Europe Hunt entered the Paris atelier of Hector Lefuel in 1846. The aspiring architect Hunt became the first American to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Hunt's mentor Lefuel later permitted him to supervise work on the Louvre museum, which Lefuel and Louis Visconti were renovating for Napoleon III, as well as to design the Pavillon de la Bibliothèque (“Library Pavilion”), prominently situated opposite the Palais-Royal. Hunt would later regale aspiring young architect Louis Sullivan with stories of his work on the New Louvre in Lefuel's atelier libre.
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