Terracotta bust of Sir Hubert von Herkomer
by Onslow Ford
Hubert Herkomer was born in 1849 in Waal, a village near Landsberg, in Bavaria. His father, Lorenz, was a woodcarver and his mother, Josephine, was a pianist and taught music.
In 1851 they emigrated to America but could not settle so they moved to Southampton, England in 1857. The family were extremely poor.
Herkomer was educated at home by his father. From an early age he showed promise as an artist. He briefly attended art schools in Southampton and South Kensington but found them uninspiring and so was largely self-taught. He became an illustrator for the Graphic magazine in1870. It was not until 1875 that he achieved his first critical success with ‘The LastMuster’ at the Royal Academy.
Meanwhile, in 1873 he had settled with his parents in a small cottage in Bushey. In the same year he married Anna Weise. They had two children, Siegfried and Elsa, but Anna’s continual poor health led to her early death in 1882.
In 1883 he married Lulu Griffiths, who died tragically the next year.
In 1883 he opened the Herkomer Art School in Bushey on the site now occupied by the Rose Garden. He set a very high standard and was progressive for the time, including the provision of life classes for women students. The School became worldfamous and more than six hundred students attended over a span of twenty-one years.Many of these students became very well known artists and many also stayed
to live and work in Bushey. Amongst them were George Harcourt, Tom Mostyn, Sir William Nicholson, Algernon Talmage, William Titcomb and Lucy Kemp-Welch, whom Herkomer described as ‘his most illustrious pupil’.
Young girl from Bushey village posing for a life class, professional models would have been naked
In 1888 he married his late wife’s sister, Margaret, and they had two children, Lorenz and Gwendydd. In 1899 he was decorated by the Kaiser and became von Herkomer following an award by the Prince Regent of Bavaria. Despite being very wealthy in the early 1900s, Herkomer’s grand projects forced him to take on more work and his
health suffered. In 1904 Herkomer gave up the Art School and Lucy Kemp-Welch opened the Bushey School of Painting in the Herkomer School premises. Herkomer was knighted by Edward VII in 1907. By 1912 Lucy Kemp-Welch had left the Art School premises which were demolished to make way for the Rose Garden. Sir Hubert von Herkomer died in 1914 and was buried in St James’ churchyard, Bushey. You can see paintings by Herkomer and some of his students in the Bushey Museum & Art Gallery in Rudolph Road, only a short distance away.
Our Village Nurse (detail) Herkomer, despite honours
and wealth, never forgot his early poor upbringing and he
funded the Village Nurse so that even the poorest people
could have access to medical advice