J.G.S. Herbert

Allegorical Still-Life

Not on display

J.G.S. Herbert active 1862
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 629 × 781 mm
frame: 815 × 980 × 75 mm
Purchased 1969

Display caption

This is one of several pictures by a little-known painter who specialized in juxtaposing symbols of earthly decay with visions of a spiritual world. In the foreground is a burial mound with a Latin inscription from Juvenal's Seventh Satire in praise of 'honoured tutors' whose urn is to be surrounded by flowers and eternal spring. In the left background is a heavenly city dominated by three crucifixes, one above the other. Juvenal's lines on schoolmasters are part of a general attack on the materialism and dissolution of Imperial Rome. Herbert is presumably making a similar criticism of nineteenth-century England and expressing the need for spiritual, specifically Christian, values.

Gallery label, March 1996

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Catalogue entry

J. G. S. Herbert active 1862


Inscribed ‘HERBERT’ b.l.
Canvas, 24 3/4×30 3/4 (63×78)
Purchased from the Fine Art Society Ltd (Gytha Trust) 1969.
Coll: ; acquired c.1963 by Charles Jerdein, sold Sotheby's 12 February 1969 (154), bt. in and subsequently sold to the Fine Art Society Ltd.

An urn decorated with vine leaves and a head of Bacchus lies embedded in a mossy bank over which spread passion flowers, pansies, hollyhocks, great bindweed and other flowers. Behind the urn a stone inscribed in Latin is set into the side of the bank, which at this point seems intended as a burial mound. The inscription, slightly cut by an old relining of the canvas (as probably was the beginning of the signature) is an inaccurate quotation of the following lines (207–210) from Juvenal's 7th Satire:

‘Di, maiorum umbris tenuem et sine pondere terram
spirantesque crocos et in urna perpetuum ver,
qui praeceptorem sancti voluere parentis
esse loco.’

In the Gifford translation, revised by John Warrington (Dent, 1954) these lines read:

‘Shades of our sires! Oh, sacred be your rest,
And lightly lie the turf upon your breast!
Flowers round your urn breathe sweets beyond compare,

And Spring eternal shed its influence there!
You honoured tutors, now a slighted race,
And gave them all a parent's power and place.’

In the left background of the painting Herbert has depicted the ethereal palaces of a heavenly city, with, one above the other, three crucifixes or scenes of the Crucifixion.

Juvenal's lines on schoolmasters are part of a more general attack by him on the materialism and irreverence of Imperial Rome. In this painting Herbert is presumably making a similar criticism of nineteenth century England and pointing a need for spiritual, and specifically Christian, values.

Very little is known of Herbert's life or work. His picture ‘The Pansy or Love in Idleness’ (Coll. Mrs V V Clayton) is dated 1862 and the signature on ‘Satan Banished’ (Coll. J H G Garnett) supplies his initials. Both works resemble T01110 in their elaborate floral foregrounds, while ‘Satan Banished’ has a similar ethereal city. There appears to be no family connection between J G S Herbert and the better known John Rogers Herbert. From the Juvenal quotation it might be supposed that J G S Herbert was a schoolmaster, but no biographical information has so far come to light.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery: Acquisitions 1968-9, London 1969

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