In The Hunter, painted as an illustration for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and the work that brought the artist to national attention, Wyeth used a startling and unusual point of view—that of the hunted bird—to give this otherwise ordinary scene of a hunter in a fall landscape a heightened sense of drama. The viewer is high in the tree, peering through the sparse fall leaves at the red-capped hunter moving through the tall grass. The hunter himself is not even the center of the composition; that honor is reserved for the sinuous trunk and branches of the towering buttonwood tree, believed to be a giant specimen that towers over Lafayette’s Headquarters at the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, near Wyeth’s home.
Wyeth’s compositions are always closely observed and highly detailed, and his choice to use the difficult technique of tempera (a paint made by mixing pigment with an egg medium) adds to the intensity and subtly of his colors. Because tempera dries very hard and very quickly, the artist must use the smallest of brushstrokes to build the composition. Wyeth renders the brushwork of The Hunter almost invisible, heightening the sensory experience of looking at the painting. So real are the colors and textures, the viewer can almost smell the crisp fall air and hear the footsteps of the hunter as he passes below.