after Sir Hubert Von Herkomer

Sunday at Chelsea Hospital


Not on display

After Sir Hubert Von Herkomer 1849–1914
Engraving on paper
Image: 292 × 223 mm
Purchased 2020


This nineteenth-century wood-engraving shows Herkomer’s study of elderly Chelsea Pensioners at worship in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea in central London. It was published in February 1871 in The Graphic, the weekly illustrated newspaper founded in 1869 by the engraver William Luson Thomas. The print impressed Thomas enough for him to commission a watercolour version of it (untraced) in December 1871. Some years later Herkomer developed the print into an exhibition painting, returning to sitters who had modelled for the original print. Despite Thomas’s initial misgivings (particularly on account of the bright red of the Pensioners’ jackets), the resulting oil painting, The Last Muster: Sunday in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea 1875, was a tremendous success and transformed Herkomer’s career. The painting is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. A charcoal study for the central figure (who has perhaps just died, hence his neighbour anxiously leaning over to check his pulse) is in the Watford Museum.

This is one of a group of wood-engravings in Tate’s collection that were published in The Graphic and were exhibited at Tate Britain in 2019 in the exhibition Van Gogh and Britain, where they were displayed alongside works by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) (see also The Old Gate 1876 after Frederic Walker, Tate P82581, Houseless and Hungry 1869 after Luke Fildes, Tate P82584, and ‘Gone’ – Euston Station. Departure of Emigrants, 9.15 p.m. Train for Liverpool, September, 1875 1876 after Frank Holl, Tate P82582). Van Gogh worked in the London print trade between 1871 and 1873 and was a prolific collector of British engravings from the period, The Graphic in particular. He owned impressions of these prints and commented on each of them in his letters.

The original engravings, which reflect on social issues, represent the world-leading renaissance of print illustration in Britain during the late nineteenth century, as well as the growth of an alternative popular art form. While the actual engravings were executed by unidentified wood engravers, the artists in many cases made designs specifically for the purpose of reproduction in The Graphic and collaborated closely with the engraver and publisher during the engraving process.

Further reading
Lee MacCormick Edwards, Herkomer: A Victorian Artist, Farnham 1999, pp.67–8.
Carol Jacobi (ed.), Van Gogh and Britain, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2019, p.71.

James Finch
February 2020

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