von Herkomer

17 Jun

Fame IS depressingly fickle.  von Herkomer was one of the most important mambers of the artistic community in the last years of the 1800s. His painting “The Last Watch” painted when he was 26, was ‘on the line’ at the Royal Academy exhibition and attracted almost universal praise (Ruskin was not enthusiastic)! It sold for £1.200 and continued to be a favourite  painting for many years, (he made a companion picture “The Guards’ Cheer”,  survivors of the Crimean War at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, standing below a statute of their young selves). He was was a Royal Academician, knighted by Edward VII and received all sorts of honours including the ‘von’ which related to his German background.

But after his death in 1914, just before the First World War, he fell from popularity and fame. It is interesting to speculate why. I think firstly it was because of his German connections; after the horrors of W.W.I a man with his obvious attachment to Germany would be be persona-non-grata. It was probably also because he relished his success a little too obviously.  Also, and more importantly, because after W.W.I artistic sensibilities were deeply transformed by the very experience of war. Post Impressionism, under the leadership of Roger Fry and Modernism became the dominant artistic currents, quite distinct from the  naturalism that he had represented.

Quite late in his career he painted “The Council of the Royal Academy”, a brave move to expose himself to the scrutiny and criticism of fellow artists, but it was well received. I understand it has never been hung in the Tate, where it now lives, it is rolled up and in poor condition. Von Herkomer would have been mortified!

 

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