Artist biography

English painter, illustrator, printmaker, stage designer, filmmaker, writer and teacher of German birth.

Herkomer exhibited annually at the Royal Academy, London, from 1869. The Last Muster: Sunday at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea was phenomenally successful and assured the artist a lasting fame.

Herkomer painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins. A stylistically inconsistent painter, Herkomer oscillated between the delicate idealism of Frederick Walker (whom he greatly admired) and his own more vigorous and idiosyncratic style influenced by contemporary German realism.

Herkomer also exhibited landscapes and Bavarian peasant scenes. He also painted two huge group portraits of town council members for the Landsberg Rathaus (1891, 1905). In 1899 William II awarded Herkomer the Order of Merit, which entitled him to add the prefix ‘von' to his name.

Although Herkomer continued to exhibit genre subjects throughout his career, the principal focus of his painting after 1880 was portraiture. The financial rewards of portrait painting enabled him to build a castle residence.

A controversial figure because of his outspoken enthusiasm and no-nonsense personality, Herkomer was often in the public eye through his lecturing, writing and other interests. A pioneer of the British film industry, he made and appeared in several films from 1912 to 1914. His art school at Bushey, which flourished from 1883 to 1904, drew students from Sweden, South Africa, America and Australia, most notably William Nicholson. Herkomer received many public honours, among them a knighthood in 1907.

W. Meynell: ‘Hubert Herkomer, ARA', Mag. A., iii (1880), pp. 259–63
A. L. Baldry: Hubert von Herkomer, CVO, RA: A Study and a Biography (London, 1901)
L. Pietsch: Herkomer (London, 1901)
J. Saxon Mills: The Life and Letters of Sir Hubert von Herkomer C.V.O, R.A.: A Study in Struggle and Success (London, 1923)
R. Pickvance: English Influences on Vincent van Gogh (exh. cat. by R. Pickvance, U. Nottingham, A.G., 1974)
G. Longman: The Beginning of the Herkomer Art School (Bushey, Herts, 1983)
L. M. Edwards: Hubert von Herkomer and the Modern Life Subject (diss., New York, Columbia U., 1984)
——: ‘ “Sympathy for the Old and for Suffering Mankind”: Hubert von Herkomer and his Paintings of Social Conscience', Hard Times (exh. cat. by J. Treuherz, Manchester, C.A.G., 1987–8), pp. 90–103


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