Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A. (1849-1914)

Every artisan—I would say every intelligent labourer has photographs taken of his family and of himself; and however poor examples of likeliness these may be, they are vastly superior to the old silhouettes, which were the only cheap form of portraiture before the invention of photography.”~   My School and My Gospel by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1908

  Herkomer ( Sir Hubert von, R.A. ) Ivy, half-length classical maiden crowned with an ivy wreath, mixed-method engraving (“Herkomergravure”), 510 x 410mm., signed in the plate, upper right, slight browning towards sheet edges, framed and lgazed in carved ivy motif frame, [Fine Art Society], [1896].

Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A. (1849-1914) along with Norman Hirst (1862-1955) explored an inventive printing technique called Herkomergravure; a process of creating a monotype by applying ink by hand to a lithographic stone, then producing a photogravure of the result. It could be enhanced with additional mezzotint or etching to give definition to surfaces and outlines, but the overall result remains very free and spontaneous.

 Clematis by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R. A. (1849-1914) in collaboration with Norman Hirst (1862-c. 1955), 1899, Mixed method engraving by Herkomer and Hirst, 21 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches,Published by Henry Graves & Co., 1899

 From My school and my gospel, on Mezzotinting, Sir Hubert von Herkomer explains,
The first work I was able to put into the hands of a student was in a department not taught in the school. It was neither painting nor drawing, but mezzotint engraving.  I had been practicing etching or some years, and was just then endeavouring to revive the art of mezzotint engraving as it was done in the early days, on copper-a metal that was abandoned by engravers for steel, which would render more impressions than the softer metal. With the assistance of my printer, I succeeded in coating the surface of the finished engraving on the copper with steel-a process which, up to that time, had only been successfully employed on etched copper plates. 

It was prophesied that the mechanical process of photogravure would kill mezzotint engraving. But the continued, and well-paid, commissions my former pupils have received clearly show that this was a false alarm. As I obtained no help from engravers in the technique of mezzotint engraving, I experimented on my own lines, and many of these experiments were successful.  We then decided what tool should be used for the rocking of the ground, how many ways it was to be crossed (as the first texture always shows when the lights are scraped down); and with what variety of texture the subject should be treated.  This change of texture made it possible to avoid monotony in passages that particularly required ‘crispness,’ a quality usually most difficult to obtain in mezzotint, as its specific characteristic is softness. "

Sir Hubert von Herkomer addresses the reader, “I fear I have just used technical terms that the general public will be unable to follow. But the province of this book is not to make the art of mezzotint engraving, any more than that of painting, clear to the layman; and I ask his indulgence for the sake of the practicing student, who will, I hope see and read these pages and he will understand.
Daphne by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R. A. (1849-1914) in collaboration with Norman Hirst (1862-c. 1955) c. 1899, Mixed method engraving by Herkomer and Hirst, 22 x 14 1/2 inches. Signed by engraver, inscribed 'never to be sold/ Working Proof/ No. 2'.

Herkomer's drawing from The Graphic his self-portrait and his two children featured at the bottom, his son Siegfried and his daughter Elsa.

Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849 - 1914), painter, watercolourist, draughtsman and etcher of portraits, landscapes, genre subjects. Hubert von Herkomer was born in Germany in 1849, but his family moved to England before he was ten years old. In 1869 he began working as an artist for a newly-founded newspaper 'The Graphic'.  After making his name drawing for the Graphic newspaper he made very good money as a portrait painter, which allowed him to produce social realist paintings for his own satisfaction. Herkomer was also a pioneering film maker. He established a studio in Lululaund and directed a number of historical costume dramas, designed to be shown accompanied by his own music. He opened his own art school and 1883, as well as acting as Slade Professor of Art between 1885 and 1895. Knighted in 1907, Heromer died in 1914.

Sir Hubert's father, Lorenz Herkomer, Hubert's son and daughter, Siegfried and Elsa. A beautiful painting by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A., Russell Coates Art Gallery

Here are some of Herkomer's well-known friends. I'm sure you'll recognize them!

My beloved Alfred Lord Tennyson. Hubert Herkomer [pencil signature.] [Goupil & Co., 1879.] Etching printed in brown ink on watermarked laid paper, 
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809 - 1892), Poet Laureate. Tennyson was made a baron in 1883, the first writer to be so honoured. At this time he wrote a number of verse plays on historical themes such as Queen Mary (1875) and Becket (1884). 

John Ruskin, age 60, in mezzotint (1879) on the left and final portrait on the right.  Both Ruskin and Herkomer's thoughts on this portrait are recorded as follows:

In November of 1879 John Ruskin wrote to Acland saying, ‘I gave carte blanche to Herkomer yesterday, who wishes to make an etching of me. I really hope there may be a little more kindly and useful truth known of me than from photographs.’ From John Ruskin: A Life in Pictures by James S. Dearden

The sittings began immediately in Ruskin’s study at Herne Hill. On December 1 he wrote to Sara Anderson. ‘I’ve been quite a prisoner to Mr. Herkomer, who has, however, made a beautiful drawing of me, the first that has ever given what good may be gleaned out of the clods of my face. ‘ 

Sir Hubert von Herkomer said:  He seemed most anxious not to look at the painting until I quite finished it; whilst sitting he was theorizing about the methods of painting. I used in those days to paint abnormally large watercolours, and always covered the paper first with a wash of some ochre or grey, then sketched the subject with charcoal. I would then commence with a hog-hair brush, working up the ground colour with some fresh tones, and out of a kind of chaos produce a head. Ruskin queried even the possibility of this, and would hardly believe that my final outlines and delicate bits of drawing were put in last.’

 The Council of the Royal Academy by Hubert von Herkomer 1908. Published by Franz Hanfstaengl, Murich, London & New York. Printed in Munich. Photogravure. The original painting was donated to the Tate Gallery by the Artist in 1909.
[Ref: 10053]   £390.00   

Feel free to leave comments,


Maggie Peters said…
I've never heard of him before but what beautiful work he does!
Thanks for sharing all these different artists. I've found some wonderful new books and paintings because of your articles. Great job!
Kevin Marsh said…
Fantastic works of art. I particularly like the portraits of th girls with wreaths around their heads. There is something Celtic and magical in those.
Thank you for sharing.

Best wishes

Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you both for commenting.
Kevin, you're right, there is definitely something Celtic and magical!
WoofWoof said…
The paintings are wonderful. I think the ones of Tennyson and Ruskin are superb, they really show the deep character of the subject. Interested to see how he was an accomplished painter, but also interested in combining painting and photography.

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