Hubert Herkomer was born in Waal, near the town of Landsberg in Bavaria in May 1849. His family were all craftsmen and his career into art was, perhaps, pre- determined. His father was a woodcarver and his mother a pianist and teacher of music.
In 1851 in search of new opportunities the family emigrated to America arriving in New York, and later settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Work was not easy to find and his mother became the main breadwinner. In May 1857 the family moved to England setting up home in Southampton. These early years were to have enenormous influence on him and helped develop his symapthy for the poor. Aside from the obvious hardships of travel the family had faced poverty and predjudice against their German origins.
Herkomer went with his father to Munich in 1865 and received formal instruction in art which was continued in 1866 and 1867 at the South Kensington Art School in London on their return – although he was largely self-
taught. From 1869 Herkomer’s work, in the form of woodcuts and as an
art journalist, began to appear regularly in periodicals of the period –
notably The Graphic and he was one of a small number of illustrators
who impressed and influenced Van Gogh. Scenes of poverty, the poor,
and social realism were favoured themes. Under the influence of
Frederick Walker and others Herkomer developed his own artistic style.
He was exhibiting work regularly and in 1875 his work The Last Muster a study of Chelsea pensioners caused a sensation at the Royal Academy.
Hubert Herkomer married Anna Weise in 1873 and in 1874 moved to ‘Dyreham’ a cottage in Bushey, Hertfordshire, with his wife and parents. Two children, a son Siegfried and a daughter, Elsa were born. Anna died in 1882 and Herkomer married Lulu Griifiths in 1884 who, tragically, died after only one year of
marrtiage. Three years later in 1888 Herkomer married her sister, Margaret in Landsberg, having to renounce his British citizenship to do so. He was re- naturalised in 1897. Margaret bore him Gwenddydd and Lawrence.
Bushey remained Herkomer’s home until his death in 1914, although he spent long periods in Landsberg. He opened the Herkomer Art School in Bushey in November 1883 as means of putting forward his own teaching methods and to show his distaste for traditional art teaching. His progressive methods produced a number of successful artists in their own right. Between 500 and 600 students attended over a twenty-one year period.
Herkomer’s other major influence on Bushey was the building of his home, Lululaund, in the style of a Bavarian castle. It was designed by the American architect H H Richardson (and was his ownly European work) in return for a portrait. By the time Herkomer moved in during 1894 it was reputed to have cost over £75,000.
His other interests in his later life ranged from fine art printing music, theatre, film-making, motoring and art in all its forms as well as the portrait painting which was his major claim to fame and fortune. He was awarded many honours both artistic and personal.
Herkomer died at Budleigh Salterton, Devon, on 31 March 1914 and was buried in the Parish church at Bushey.