He was born near Long Acre, London, and was apprenticed in about 1805 to John Varley, the landscape-painter, with whom he remained five or six years. He exhibited three oil pictures at the Royal Academy in 1807. He became connected with the Society of Painters in Water Colours at its beginning, and was elected an associate in 1824 and a full member in 1827. Until the year of his death, he was one of the most prolific contributors to the Society's exhibitions. Many years of Hunt's uneventful but industrious life were spent at Hastings. He died of apoplexy.
Hunt was one of the creators of the English school of water-color painting. His subjects, especially those of his later life, are extremely simple; but, by the delicacy, humor and fine power of their treatment, they rank second to works of the highest art only. Considered technically, his works exhibit all the resources of the water-color painter's craft, from the purest transparent tinting to the boldest use of gouache, rough paper and scraping for texture. His sense of color is perhaps as true as that of any English artist. He was, says John Ruskin, all in all, the finest ever painter of still life. Several characteristic examples of Hunt's work, as the "Boy and Goat," "Brown Study and Plums," "Primroses and Birds' Nests" are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In his lifetime, Hunt earned special notice for the accuracy and fine detail of his still-lifes with birds' nests, as with the aforementioned "Primroses and Birds' Nests"—so much so that he acquired the nickname "Bird's Nest" Hunt.