Born in Glasgow, Scotland, John Young-Hunter was raised with privilege and extravagance among the culturally elite of London, and close friends of the family included John Singer Sargent and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. John received much recognition for his portrait painting in England, and his paintings were exhibited in the National Tate Gallery in London and the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. He studied at Clifton College in England and the Royal Academy School as well as the University of London. From 1900 to 1913, he exhibited at the Royal Academy. In 1913, he went to the United States, pursuing his fascination with American Indians whom he had seen in Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show" performances in London. He had also been acquainted with Charles Russell in London the year before.
Hunter went West, first visiting the Crow Agency in Montana where he did much painting and acquired western gear, and on a second visit went to Great Falls, Montana where he was the guest of Charles and Nancy Russell. In 1917, he first visited Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. Cutting his connections to the European art world, he settled in Taos in 1942 and became a part of the colony of artists around Mabel Dodge Luhan.
In his book "Reviewing the Years" he discussed the techniques and underlying philosophy of his painting. In 1956, the Harwood Foundation in Taos held a retrospective of his painting.