by Scholes, Robert
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Hubert von Herkomer (1849 - 1914)
Hubert von Herkomer was born in Bavaria, came to England in 1857, and studied art at the RCA from 1866, under the direction of Sir Luke Fildes. Herkomer first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869, his famous The Last Muster was one of the pictures of the year in 1875, and he became successively RI (1871), ARA (1879) and RA in 1890. He was influenced in watercolour painting by the painter J. W. North, and after spending some months painting in his company, became RWS.
Herkomer founded a school of art at Bushey, Hertfordshire, directing it personally from its foundation in 1883 through to 1904. He had very strong ideas on the proper way to teach art, using a scheme of progressive study, centred around study from life. First the students would study casts from life, then they would enter the life room, and only afterwards could they work from the antique. (This was the reverse of the system used in the Royal Academy Schools and South Kensington, where students started with the antique and ended with the life class.) The idea was that the students would develop their own character as artists, and then use the antique as examples of the ideal figure, rather than slavishly copy what they saw. The School was very successful, and students there included Lucy Kemp-Welch, who directed the School after Herkomer, George Harcourt, Amy Sawyer, Tom Mostyn, E. Borough Johnson, Alfred U. Soord, Henry Justice Ford, Hilda Fairbairn and C. L. Burns. The assistant master at the school was D. A. Wehrschmidt.
Besides painting, von Herkomer also did enamelling, directed theatre productions, created backdrops for them, and was engaged in a number of other artistic endeavors. Between 1912 and until his death in 1914 von Herkomer built a film studio on his estate in Hertfordshire. There he produced seven films including a comedy and costume dramas. They were released and shown in and around London, and at least one was shown in the United States, but to date, the whereabouts of the films remains unknown. Shortly after his death his portrait of the Duke of Wellington was attacked and damaged by a suffragette at a Royal Academy show.
In 1910 Huntly Carter, writing in The New Age(NA 6.16:378) for February 17, had this to say about a major work of Herkomer's.
As a set-off to these wild extravagances [paintings by Royal Academicians] there is, it is true, the unexampled generosity of Herkomer, who has given to the R. A. his vast group, 21 ft. long, of the Academy Council of 1907. It is now hung in Room 13 at Millbank. The number and place are ominous. I shall watch the effect of this appalling gift, with its theatrical representation of a group of "manufacturers" [academic painters] discussing the sale of their wares, on the works of art. And I shall not be surprised to hear that the Turners, the Stevens, the Furse, the Wards, the Blakes, and the Whistler have gone out and drowned themselves as a protest against being placed in such insufferable company.