Sir Herbert James Gunn was born in Glasgow and first studied art at the Glasgow School of Art. His talents as an artist were soon recognised and Gunn was fortunate to be sent to Académie Julian in Paris. He remained in Paris until 1914 when the threat of an unsettled continent forced him back to the UK. It was, however, during his time in France that Gunn developed his radical approach to compositional arrangements. His often stark palette of grey tones was used to heighten the dramatic placement of forms.

After a successful career, Gunn later became a member of the Royal Academy and in 1953/4 he was invited to paint Queen Elizabeth II in her Coronation robes, a picture that hangs in the Royal Collection to this day.