THE ARCTIC AND BRUCE

12 Aug

In the early 1900s Spitsbergen was still classified as ‘Terra Nullius’, a place where explorers from any country could claim land simply by positioning identification boards (indicating longitude &latitude), at the peripheries of the claimed areas and informing their governments of the details of the claim.

When William Speirs Bruce brought back coal of good commercial quality from Spitsbergen, he established the prospecting company the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate, in 1909. He had high hopes of a successful, marketable, profitable venture that would yield coal, oil and other minerals. The Syndicate made claims over vast stretches of Spitsbergen.

In the following years up to 1919 Bruce was increasingly concerned about his Syndicate’s claims. He feared that other countries, most particularly Norway and Russia, would take over ‘his’ British areas of Spitsbergen, or even lay claim to the entire archipelago – this would result in significant geopolitical, as well as commercial disadvantages to Britain.

He petitioned the British Government regularly for the annexation of Spitsbergen with a string of appeals: for example – if Norway were to get control, all Spitsbergen’s valuable resources would be lost; if Britain did not look out, Russia would grab the place and have an excellent supply of ‘Welsh’ coal. In 1912 he noted that Green Harbour (a port) had a suspiciously large telegraph station, well out of proportion to its needs –he was sure that the Norwegian Government would use the post office for a de facto administration of the Archipelago.

These appeals were doomed to failure. The authorities in Great Britain had ‘bigger fish to fry’ and considered this Archipelago of little commercial or strategic advantage.

An approach to Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, fell on deaf ears. Churchill wrote that there was no sound reason to annex Spitsbergen; writing that this action would require an armed force to safeguard the claim and that this in itself would not affect whatever possibilities existed of the island being used by enemies.

Bruce’s fears were confirmed at a meeting with an official from the Foreign Office, who in late 1918, informed him of the unwelcome dawning international consensus: Denmark would get Southern Jutland, Sweden would get the Baltic Islands and Spitsbergen would become part of Norway

Spitsbergen’s future was officially decided as an addendum to the Treaty of Versailles. The Spitsbergen Treaty was agreed in 9, February 1920. Spitsbergen became part of the Kingdom of Norway.

Bruce’s concerns about the future of Spitsbergen and its surrounds were prescient. Russia now has a significant presence in the region coupled with the will to tackle its severe conditions.

Large reserves of natural gas and oil have been discovered around Spitsbergen and elsewhere. The world’s attention is now focused on the potential gains of the area – the very gains that Bruce wanted to exploit. Exxon Mobile and Shell are applying for permission to begin exploratory drilling in the region.

Also global warming now allows much better access. Cargo ships can get through the North West Passage for several months in summer time. The North East route on the Siberian coast is open for a few months each year. Such easier transportation results in huge savings in transport time, money and greenhouse emissions.

Bruce made no money in the Arctic though he made geographic discoveries. But his instinct that the Arctic was geopolitically important as well as a source of huge potential wealth was all too correct. The world is now well aware of this.

 

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MORE ON CONTAMINANTS AND PLASTICS IN ANTARCTICA

27 Jun

Dr. Edward Wilson sent back penguins’ skins to England from Antarctica in the early 1900s. These skins were the controls when, in the 1960s, an investigation was undertaken on the presence of contaminants in Antarctica.

In 1964, Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT), an insecticide very widely used at the time, was found in Adélie penguin skins. DDT gets into birds and larger animals via the krill that they ingest. DDT is known to persist in the environment and was banned: in America in the 1970s, in England in the 1980s and by the Stockholm convention, signed in 2001. Clearly it was hoped that levels of DDT in Antarctica would drop significantly over time, but disappointingly the compound was found in the sea around the Antarctic Peninsula 6 meters below the sea surface in 1975, and can be still found in penguin fat. A suggested explanation for this is that 1960s airborne particles became trapped in Antarctic glaciers and now as the ice sheets melt, the chemical is released back into the environment.

Now the same problem has been discovered with plastics and other chemicals.

In relation to plastics, researchers have found recently that water and snow collected in the Antarctic contain microplastics such as microfibers/ microbeads.

MICROFIBERS are finer than a human hair and are found, blended with synthetic or natural fibers, in clothes, knitwear and carpets. They get into the ocean through litter and are virtually indestructible. Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. MICROBEADS are tiny particles of hard plastics that are used in cosmetics, for instance as an abrasive in skin cleaners. These are flushed down the drain after use, instantly forgotten, but lasting for decades.

In relation to chemicals seven of nine snow samples contained concentrations of perfluorinated-alkylated substances (PFAS). These are stain, water and grease repellent chemicals that are found in a wide range of consumer products which have, apparently, been linked to problems in animal reproduction They reach the Antarctic in rain and snow (as did DDT).

Plastics and chemicals are now generally recognized as one of our biggest environmental threats. But in spite of well -publicized solutions adopted by many countries, it remains an enormous challenge.

 

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT ANTARCTICA?

An agreement was reached in 2016 by delegates from 24 countries and the

European Union, that the Ross Sea would become the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA). It is an area of 1.57m sq. km (600,000 sq. miles and will protect the area from commercial fishing for 35 years – of particular importance is the industrial-scale krill fishing which decimates the main food supply for many larger animals.

The Ross Sea, its shelf and slope are home to 38% of the world’s Adélie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic Petrels and around 6% of the world’s population of Antarctic Minkie Whales. The fishing-free zone would protect these species and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Ross Sea marine protected area came into force on 11/12/2017.

Naval ships are monitoring the area.

This is a most important development for the future protection of the area. Edward Wilson and his colleagues would have approved.

 

 

Finding Shackleton’s Endurance

5 Jun

FINDING SHACKLETONS ‘ENDURANCE’

 

Recently a Victorian merchant vessel, the ‘West Ridge’, lost off the west coast of Australia over 100 years ago, was located during the search for the still tragically missing MH370, which disappeared whilst flying from Malaysia to China, in March 2014.

‘West Ridge’ ship wreck found 12000ft beneath Southern Indian Ocean December 2015

Area of Southern Indian Ocean where West Ridge, a barque lost in July 1883

credit:Australian Transport  Safety bureau /ATP/Getty

 

 

Now it is hoped that the final location of another lost ship, Shackleton’s Endurance, will be found on the seabed of the Weddell Sea as a part of an expedition that has, primarily, important scientific aims.

As is well known, Shackleton’s ship became trapped in the icy grip of the Weddell Sea in February I915. She drifted slowly and helplessly in a clockwise direction around the Weddell until October 1915, when the pressure of the sea ice started to crush the stern, and the sea finally poured in. The crew had to abandon ship to begin their precarious existence on ice flows.

Endurance sank on November 1915 – ‘She’s going boys’

 

October 1915 Endurance being crushed in the Weddel Sea – Sank in November 1915

credit : Frank Hurley

The proposed expedition aims to increase scientific information about the continent.

Glaciologists, geologists, geophysicists, marine biologists and oceanographers make up the team, which comes from, I understand, the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), the Nekton Foundation, the University of Oxford, the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) and the University of Cape Town. The scientists will examine marine life in the Weddell Sea, and study the exposed cavities that lie beneath the Larsen C. ice shelf, one of the largest ice shelves in Antarctica, following the breakaway, in July 2017, of Iceberg A-68.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director of SPRI, says that the study is relevant to all the ‘fringes’ of Antarctica and the ice shelves around it. Ice shelves are part of what secures the ice flow from the interior, if they break off, the interior ice flows faster. This is of general concern, because interior ice flows contribute to global sea level rise.

The Weddell Sea expedition will start in January 2019, (when sea ice is at its thinnest). Agulhas11 an icebreaking polar supply and research vessel will sail into the western part of the Weddell Sea, which has actually only been visited rarely since Endurance sank there in 1915.

The work will focus on the area in and around Iceberg A-68; the iceberg that broke off. It is massive, it has a surface area of 2,240 square miles (5,800 square kilometers), about four times the size of London!

Also cavities under the shelf of Larsen C itself will be explored, the seafloor mapped, and the overhanging ice canopy investigated. Samples of ice will be extracted from the shelf. These can be read (like tree rings) to see the ebb and flow of the ice over time. Because A-68 split off, there is concern as to whether Larsen C may be prone to collapse and the expedition aims to establish the past history of ice advance and retreat, to see if old grounding lines – the locations where Larsen’s feeding glaciers previously rested on the seafloor, have moved backwards and forwards on a fairly regular basis, or only retreated. In this way it is hoped to put the recent changes at the peninsula into longer-term context.

The Captain of Endurance, New Zealander Frank Worsley, was a navigator of enormous experience. He subsequently navigated the James Caird, a twenty-five foot boat, through the turbulent waves of Drake’s Passage and the South Atlantic, for 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Only three sightings of the sun could be made on this sail. When Endurance sank in 1915, Worsley recorded her position as 68˚39′ 30.0″S. 52° 26′ 30.0″W, but locating the ship poses considerable challenges – she is 10,000 feet below the sea surface, the ice conditions on the surface can vary greatly from year to year, also the state of the ship will be poor, though it is thought that the hull will be reasonably intact.

If Endurance is found she will be surveyed, photographed and filmed. Undersea drones will document any marine life. The expedition obviously aims to record Endurance’s exact location, so the wreck can be listed as a historic monument under the Antarctic Treaty. Nothing will be removed from the site if the ship is found.

This is an important expedition with important implications. Finding Endurance would be a bonus, though it is interesting to consider whether Shackleton would have preferred to let her remain undisturbed.

 

Tags ‘West Ridge’, ‘Endurance’, Professor Julian Dowdeswell,  Frank Worsley, ‘James Caird’, Larsen C, Iceberg A-68, ‘Agulhas II’, South Georgia.

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Comment on Amazon

13 May

I have just come across this ‘Comment’ on Amazon.com about ‘William Speirs Bruce, Forgotten Polar Hero’

 

‘The book provides a great insight into one of the lesser known characters of Arctic and Antarctic discovery and science. It is great to see a proud Scottish perspective running through the work. It is a very informative read which provides a wider perspective on polar science of the period. I would recommend the book to all’.

 

I am delighted with this comment as it reflects the careful analysis and conclusions re Bruce’s life that John Dudeney and I came to over a number of years.

PLASTIC and POLLUTION

25 Apr

News about pollution with plastic is everywhere. It has definitely hit public consciousness. Governments, businesses, and individuals are now conscious of the amount of unnecessary plastic waste thrown out daily and the damage this causes  (although I remain appalled at the number of plastic bottles that are still thrown from car windows onto my garden).

Plastic pollution means plastic products that are disposed of in a way that they cause damage to wildlife, wildlife habitat, or humans.

Plastics are categorized into micro-, meso-, or macro debris. Virtually everyone nowadays must be aware of macro debris; more than 8 million tons of plastics are dumped into the seas yearly resulting in animals being strangled by plastic loops, thousands of albatross chicks killed by the pieces of the plastic they mistake for food, the appalling aesthetics (and health hazards), of hitherto pristine beaches littered with plastic.

Microplastics are small plastic particles of less than 5 mm diameter. They are classified as primary; for example (from clothing and industry) and secondary, from the breakdown of larger macro plastic debris (for example debris at the bottom of the oceans). Microplastics are used, to a degree that I was unaware of, in the cosmetic industry: for example in exfoliates, soaps and other personal care products such as body scrubs and toothpaste. These plastics enter the sewage systems and, as they are too small to be completely retained by the preliminary treatment screens of wastewater plants, they leach into rivers and oceans. They do not degrade easily, persisting for years and so accumulating in the bodies and tissues of animals and plants and hence the food chain.

These microplastics are made of polyethylene, (a component of plastic), polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or nylon.

Plastics seem to be ubiquitous; items of clothing can contain polyester, nylon and acrylic synthetic fibers that shed and persist in the environment. It is a said that a load of laundry can contain more than 1,900 fibers of microplastics, (with fleeces releasing the highest percentage of fibers).

Spillage, coming from packing materials during transport and from processing plants are two other important sources of pollution, sometimes in the form of macroplastics, otherwise as secondary microplastics resulting from long-term degradation. A Swedish investigation, using an 80 µm mesh in Swedish waters, showed that the typical microplastic concentrations of 150–2,400 microplastics per m .   increased to 102,000 per m. in a harbor adjacent to a plastic production facility. A Californian study found that after a storm, the transport of plastics increased from 10 to 60 microplastics per m.

Recreational and commercial fishingmarine vessels, and marine industries are all sources of plastic that can directly pollute the sea. I was surprised that fishing equipment, such as lines and netting (which drift to variable depths in oceans) are a particular hazard. That awful beach debris comes either from people who just dump their debris, or from beaching of materials carried by ocean currents.

This is an urgent geopolitical problem which slowly and none too soon, is being faced up to:

A fascinating development has been the discovery of species of bacteria that uses polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most common forms of plastic, as a food source. This is a huge find: PET takes 450 years to completely degrade in the environment. These bacteria, it is said, can digest it in weeks. But on what scale and how will these bacteria be contained? Will birds eat the bacteria?

Other solutions under consideration are:

a) In the UK a ban has been launched on microbeads. Other countries are introducing this ban.

b) Plastic-Free Aisles in Supermarkets, an Amsterdam store has a plastic free aisle containing more than 700 items. This cannot come soon enough. The amount of plastic packaging, of fruit/veg for example, in my local supermarket is ridiculous and dirtying your hands by handling potatoes, vegetables etc.(as some people object to), can help to build up natural immunity.

c) Banning Cotton buds and Plastic Straws
It is planned that this should be done within a year

d) Plastic Bottles

Have been described as ‘almost a flagship for the wider issues of marine plastic pollution’. 7.5 billion of much larger number of bottles end up in landfill in the UK, others get into the sea. In Britain there has been a 10% rise in plastic pollution on the beaches in the past year. There is now a huge campaign to reduce/stop the production of plastic bottles. Reusable containers are becoming popular. A 25p charge on disposable coffee cups is under consideration — this would greatly reduce the 5 billion cups dumped every year. Also discounts are being offered to consumers who bring their own reusable cups, for example Pret A Manger gives this discount. Since a 5p plastic bag tax was first introduced in the UK in October 2015, there has been a 90% fall in bag use — with 9 billion fewer bags being used across the country, according to figures released last July Tesco took the ban one step further, banning the 5p single-use carrier bags completely, in favour of a 10p bag for life. In his November budget, U.K Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans for a tax increase on disposable plastic items, including takeaway boxes. These plans are being consulted on.

e) Water fountains. I like this idea. It takes us back decades! The suggestion is that if fresh water is available to the public, we will buy less bottled water.  Greater access to water fountains across the UK is being investigated

f) Recycled Plastics.

Currently, firms in the UK pay one of the lowest contributions to recycling their waste in the whole of Europe — with taxpayers instead paying 90% of the recycling costs.

The government could introduce incentives for industries designing packaging that is easier to recycle, and raise charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle, making packaging producers more responsible for the type of products they are putting on the market.

g) School education, even a half hour presentation, fitted into the crowded school curriculum, would make an impression

A summary of the UK’s approach was given by the Environment Secretary 1)Cut the total amount of plastic in circulation. 2) Reduce the number of different plastics in use, because that will help recycling firms. 3) Improve the rate of recycling, which has been slipping recently. 4) Make it easier for individuals to know what goes into the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish.

To this, information could be added as to how our general rubbish is distributed (i.e. the % that is exported (untreated), the % the goes into landfill the % that is burnt.

This is a serious geopolitical problem; if these approaches are adopted widely the situation could be contained and gradually reduced.

Hubert von Herkomer and Vincent van Gogh

30 Mar

A final post about Herkomer, prompted by advanced publicity relating to the exhibition on van Gogh that is to be held in Tate Britain next year.

Herkomer’s ‘Social Realism’ pictures, reproduced in The Graphic, a magazine edited by William Luston Thomas, had a lasting influence on van Gogh who wrote to his brother Theo, that ‘the highest and noblest expressions of art were that of the English’. Van Gogh mentioned Herkomer in his letters to Theo regularly between 1881(when he was twenty-eight) and 1885.

I hoped that this influence would be mentioned in the Tate exhibition and was pleased to hear from the Curator of the van Gogh exhibition, Dr. Carol Jacobi, that she has a long-standing interest in Herkomer and that his importance to van Gogh will be a component of the show and the catalogue.

Herkomer, a few years older than van Gogh, was already an established artist at the time van Gogh wrote to Theo. The Last Muster (which received spontaneous applause when it was shown to the Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy), was internationally admired and had won the Medal of Honour in the Paris International Festival of 1878. Van Gogh also admired Herkomer’s painting of Bavarian peasant life (reproduced in L’Art which he would have seen) as well as paintings illustrating the deprivation and loneliness of old women in the workhouses of London.

Although van Gogh was in London for a few years in the 1870s he did not meet Herkomer, but he regularly went to look at new illustrations posted in the windows of the Graphic and Illustrated London News offices. Later (when in the Hague), he collected a complete series of twenty – one volumes of the Graphic running from 1870 to 1880.

He not only admired Herkomer’s work, which he considered showed both ‘soul’ and a sympathy for his fellow man, but he also admired the man himself . Herkomer’s accounts of the grinding poverty he and his parents endured when, in search of a better life, they emigrated from Germany to America and then to England, and his determination in overcoming these difficulties at the beginning of his career sounded a responsive cord in van Gogh, himself beset with so many career and personal frustrations.

Herkomer, in contrast to van Gogh, was to become a hugely wealthy man, mainly because of his portrait painting (which he defended as ‘Contemporary History’), but he remained a source of admiration to van Gogh, who as late as 1888 was still creating images that reflected the Graphic series – his admiration for the Herkomer’s expressionist ‘soul’ can be said to have remained with him throughout his life.

I am sure this Tate Britain exhibition will be a great success.

The book on Bruce is published!

16 Mar

WILLIAM SPEIRS BRUCE

FORGOTTEN POLAR HERO

ISOBEL P. WILLIAMS AND JOHN DUDENEY

IS PUBLISHED!!
PUBLISHED BY AMBERLEY PUBLISHING
HARDBACK OR E-BOOK

It is in bookshops as well as on Amazon and I hope you will take a look.

John’s 50th visit to Antarctica

28 Feb

My co-author has been visiting Antarctica regularly since he was a young man. He does scientific work and lectures on cruise ships.

He has written another vivid account of life in the Antarctic. Here it is

Here I am once more on the South Scotia Sea over 50 years since I first voyaged here, heading from one iconic place in Polar history to another – South Georgia to Elephant Island – on the ship the ‘Akademik Ioffe’. Outside my porthole is a symphony in monochrome, grey cloud and dark grey sea with wind torn whitecaps around which wandering Albatross are wheeling and skimming, along with a myriad of other Southern Ocean seabird. Occasionally there will be a whale blow to add a deep bass tone to the music of the Southern Ocean.
The Scotia Sea is named for the ship ‘The Scotia’ which carried William Speirs Bruce and his men on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition of 1902 to 1904. A forgotten polar hero, but one I hope will become much better known and appreciated with the publication of the new biography of his life and times. I hope he would have appreciated my description of the view from my porthole and the treble tones of the whistling wind – something that was a constant for him during the voyage.
South Georgia is iconic in Polar affairs for many reasons, it was rediscovered by James Cook in 1775 during his second great circumnavigation of the world, and as a result became the centre, first of fur sealing, then in the early 20th century for whaling. As they wiped out the fur seals at South Georgia, the early 19th century sealers turned their attention – and their ships – South West to the South Shetlands, South Orkneys and the Antarctic Peninsula. And it was they who did most of the early explorations there. South Georgia is also, of course, iconic as part of the story of Shackleton and the ‘Endurance’ expedition, and the other day I was privileged to lead a group from Stromness whaling station up the valley to the “Shackleton waterfall”, thus retracing part of his famous journey.
Elephant Island is iconic as the place that Shackleton’s men were marooned at ‘Point Wild’ for 4 months through the winter of 1916, awaiting rescue. We will be visiting it in two days – weather permitting (it rarely does). On my various visits to the vicinity of Point Wild – I have never yet actually managed to set foot there (maybe this time!) – I often reflect on the fact that brave and enterprising folk have several times recreated the voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Others have trekked across South Georgia following in Shackleton’s footsteps. But nobody has ever suggested re-enacting sitting under an upturned boat at Point Wild eating penguins for four months. And I doubt they ever will!

Sir Hubert von Herkomer R.A.

10 Feb

Nestling amongst my talks on Antarctic heroes and Antarctic subjects is one on a Victorian artist, Hubert Herkomer, a man who was one of the most famous artists of the late Victorian era and the Edwardian period. Why is he there? I am not an art historian. I spent my working life as a Consultant in the National Health Service.

caption: self-portrait by Hubert Herkomer held in Bushey Museum Hertfordshire U.K.

The reason that Herkomer entered my life is that I wrote the biography of Edward Wilson, the doctor who died with Scott in 1912. Wilson and his wife made their home in Bushey, Hertfordshire. When I visited Bushey Museum to learn more about my subject, I found they were more interested in their celebrity Herkomer, who had lived in the town for forty years.

Caption: Lululaund Gothic style(built from 1880-1884). Designed by the American architect H.H.Richardson(Boston Mass.USA).

I learnt that during these years, in addition to the most prodigious artistic output he was a talented musician, ran an art school, wrote the music, the words and acted in plays and, with his father and uncles, built a huge Gothic house, designed by H.H. Richardson, the famous Bostonian American architect.

Caption:Students of Herkomer Art School started in 1883. Initially for 60 students, but soon rose to 100 students.

When I looked around the museum I was caught immediately by the numerous examples of his paintings and drawings on display. I decided I would make a presentation, which, I hoped might be of general interest

Caption: Drawn by Herkomer Woodcut printed in the Graphic Magazine 1870. Bushey Museum hertfordshire U.K.

Herkomer was an inexhaustible worker. Initially he produced many ‘Social Realism’ Illustrations. These graphically informed all Victoria’s subjects of the poverty and deprivation of the Victorian working class.

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Caption: THE SUNDAY TRADING QUESTION THE GRAPHIC 6 JANUARY 1872. BUTLER LIBRARY COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY N.Y.

He continued with these for many years; his Diploma painting (presented to the Royal Academy when he was elected a Full Member) was ‘On Strike’, described as ‘a cry for humanity’.

Caption: THE COASTGUARDSMAN 20 SEPTEMBER 1879 THE GRAPHIC ;’HEADS OF PEOPLE’.
BUTLER LIBRARY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY N.Y.

Caption: THE LAST MUSTER ‘, 1875. LADY LEVER ART GALLERY, MERSEYSIDE. U.K.

He also produced numerous paintings and pictures, of scenes in England, Wales and Germany. Later in his career he concentrated on the ‘portrait market’ with great success, painting the great and the good in this country and in Germany.

Caption: watercolour painting of JOHN RUSKIN, H.Herkomer 1879. NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY LONDON, U.K.

Caption: MARRIED ANNA WEISE 1873.Her portrait by Hubert Herkomer 1876. BUSHEY MUSEUM, HERTFORDSHIRE U.K.

In 1899 he was awarded the Order of Maximilien by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria; this allowed him to add von to his name, an honour he greatly appreciated as it raised the prestige of the Herkomer family as a whole.

He visited the States twice and on one of his visits to Boston he painted 36 portraits in a few months.

Caption: Herkomer built a THEATRE,created ELABORATE MUSICAL PLAYS,and WROTE AND ORCHESTRATED THE MUSIC, as well taking an active role in the plays. The image is of Edward Gordon Craige, who was the stage designer producing amazingly a mobile full moon, fully lit, that traversed from one side of the stage to the other steadily through out the performance. He was the son of Ellen Terry.

Hubert Herkomer’s original passport to success however was ‘The Last Muster’. This was painted when he was twenty-six. It depicts Chelsea Pensioners in the chapel of the Chelsea Hospital and drew spontaneous applause from the Hanging Committee, of the Royal Academy, when it was submitted for exhibition – surely unusual. It was one of the most popular paintings in England for 40 years and won the Medal of Honour in the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878. It is said to be a memento mori and a reminder both of patriotism and poverty.

Caption: HERKOMER’S DIPLOMA PAINTING ‘ON STRIKE’, 1891. ROYAL ACADEMY, PICCADILLY. LONDON U.K.

His watercolour portrait of Ruskin, described as one of the greatest portraits of the Victorian era, was painted when Ruskin was probably already suffering from a bipolar disorder. The portrait is considered outstandingly insightful; it certainly drew enthusiastic praise from Ruskin himself who nominated Herkomer for the Slade Professorship in Oxford.

Caption:Watercolour by Hubert Herkomer 1901 of Queen Victoria at Osborne House Isle of Wight.U.K.
The Royal Collection.
This image is from a copy held by Bushey Museum, Hertfordshire. U.K.

Edward VII invited him to paint Queen Victoria on her deathbed and subsequently granted him a knighthood.
But Hubert is now largely forgotten. Why? There are four main reasons. Firstly, although he was a naturalized British citizen, he was born in Bavaria and never lost his connection with Germany, visiting Bavaria regularly. Secondly, he was often perceived to be egotistical, self-praising and effusive, not traits likely to endear him to his fellow citizens and artistic rivals (Royal Academicians filed a question concerning his right to British citizenship). Thirdly, by the time he died in 1914, anti German feeling was rife.

But probably the most important reason was that by the end of World War 1 tastes in art had changed. There was no appetite for ‘vulgar, coloured photographs’. ‘Modernism’ had arrived

Although Herkomer was and is represented in galleries throughout Britain and word-wide, he sank into obscurity for some years. He has been reassessed for his significant contributions more recently.

I am making two presentations on him this year. I hope to kindle further interest in an undoubtedly brilliant artist.

Why didn’t they ask Evans? x3+

16 Jan

Kristoffer has commented further on Professor Turney’s paper.

I have altered the order of the images to make sure the words Teddy Evans’interview (NZ press) are in the correct order.