Tag Archives: H.H.Richardson

Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A.

25 Nov


Apart from speaking on Antarctic subjects I give talks about Hubert von Herkomer.

Herkomer came from a modest background in Bavaria, his father, following the long Bavarian tradition of working in wood, was a wood carver. Secondarily to the general European unrest of 1848, the Herkomers decided to try their luck in the States when Hubert was three. The experiment was a complete disaster: cultural/language difficulties, resentment of immigrants, lack of interest in Herkomer senior’s carvings. The family gave up sailed to Southampton, England.

His father wanted Hubert to become an artist and taught Hubert to copy illustrations from German and English magazines from a young age. When he was nineteen Hubert began selling illustrations to the numerous London illustrated journals. Also, aged nineteen he had paintings accepted, both for the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition and for the prestigious Dudley Gallery, whose artists often went on to exhibit at the Watercolour Society). From this young age he was a success. He earned his living as an artist. He never lacked work.

He had a prodigiously enquiring, inventive and wide-ranging mind; he was active in engraving, enameling, woodcuts, oils, watercolours, mechanics (he helped design a motor car), zither and banjo performing, the theatre and an art school in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Here he taught students in the way that he was certain that artistic training should be organized – out of doors, using the imagination, being faithful to each student’s talent, not copying the teacher slavishly. This was in marked contrast to the traditions of the time, which was that a student should spend his initial two years of training copying ‘casts’, plaster casts of heads, feet etc. before being allowed to attempt ‘Life’ Drawings. In addition to all this activity Herkomer, his father and his uncles furnished a huge Gothic-type house in Bushey, which he hoped would be a celebration of his family forever. – This was the only house designed in England by the famous Bostonian architect H.H. Richardson.
To fund these numerous activities he made many portraits of the great and the good and commanded big prices for these. But his early portraits were produced free of charge – a way to attract attention and commissions. One of his early portraits was of John Ruskin (John Ruskin, 1879), a watercolour. Herkomer was thirty, Ruskin twice that age; Ruskin was enthused by Herkomer’s exuberance and zither playing. Herkomer by Ruskin’s brilliant conversation.
Herkomer did the painting in a few days, colouring the background with a colour wash, making a charcoal sketch of his subject and completing the fine colour detail of the face with a hog hair brush This painting has been described as one of the great portraits of the Victorian era and shows the insightfulness of the artist It seems to show the sadness in Ruskin’s eyes and sensitivity towards Ruskin’s inner turmoil at a time when mental illness (possibly a bipolar disorder), was beginning to cloud his life: it was at this time that Ruskin was unable to testify at the famous court case, Whistler against Ruskin, which took place soon after the portrait was painted..
Ruskin was aware of the brilliant intuition behind the portrait He nominated Herkomer to succeed him as the Slade Professor in Oxford


Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A.

Portrait of John Ruskin.






Sir Hubert von Herkomer R.A.

23 Nov

The von Herkomer Exhibition in Bushey Hertfordshire, which commemorates the centenary of the artist’s death, is remarkably comprehensive.
Herkomer was widely recognised in the UK and USA, particularly for his portraits for which he was richly rewarded. But portraits were only a part of his oeuvre. His enthusiasm and immersion in a whole variety of artistic outlets and his productivity, as well as his passion for his work, leave the modern mind stunned. Many of these obsession are shown in the Bushey exhibition: paintings of the countryside, local life in Bushey, his work as an illustrator, his poignant social realism prints, portraits, his art school and theatre, his enamels and the home he built in Bushey Lululaund with examples of family made furniture and weaving. Lululaund was his triumphant monument to his own and his family’s achievements.
His art school boasted an unconventional curriculum, he encouraged his students to draw and paint from nature and life early in their training, rather than the conventionally accepted training of students spending months and months on classical casts before being allowed to progress to ‘live’ subjects. As a student Herkomer had rebelled against this ‘mindless’ repetition and his students were encouraged to develop their individual talents, rather than slavishly copying the master. This school, unusually, did not award prizes, competition was discouraged and the student’s paintings were turned to the wall at the end of each day.
Herkomer’s remarkable ability for work meant that he could keep several projects on the go at the same time. He investigated and developed many artistic outlets. His school included a theatre and film studios as well as his art studio. He wrote and acted in his own plays. With the stage designer Edward Gordon Craig he developed an overhear “moon” light which crossed the stage and was one of the first examples of overhead lighting in the theatre I am told.
One of his best-known students was Lucy Kemp Welsh who illustrated Black Beauty. Some of her large and wonderful oil paintings are part of Bushey Museum’s permanent collection.
Herkomer’s hoped his home Lululaund (designed by the American architect H.H.Richardson), with its Arts and Crafts tradition would remain in the family forever, a lasting tribute to the craftsmanship of his father and uncles as well as himself and his architect. Sadly this did not happen (all that remains now is the entrance). This man, widely renowned in Victorian and Edwardian England, honoured by king and country, a friend of royalty, lost favour dramatically (to the point of being almost forgotten), after his death in 1914. Why? There are several reasons: Though a nationalised British citizen, he was German by birth and had always kept up his ties with Germany which he visited regularly (he built another home and a monument to his mother in his native Bavaria) and his nationality was questioned by some in the Royal Academy. Although he had always hoped for a closer association between Germany and Great Britain. World War 1 clearly put paid to these hopes. Germany and things German had left too awful a scar to be forgotten. Also, his all too obvious enjoyment of his huge success had always been resented in some quarters (not an English way of behaving). Finally the war changed public conception of art. Herkomer’s work was realistic; his portraits (which are wonderful) were derided by some as ‘richly coloured photographs’. Modernism: Braque, Picasso, Mondrian and the war artists were acclaimed and these factors fatally damaged his reputation in the immediate post war years
But he was a wonderful, versatile, talented artist; He deserves to be more widely appreciated in the UK and beyond.
I recommend a visit to Bushey Museum to see this exhibition, which is showing till January 2015