Since novelist Thomas Hardy did not even meet Hubert Herkomer, the principal illustrator in the collaborative team to whom Locker assigned the illustrating of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, until 1904, his six plates cannot be regarded in same light as those, for example, that Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz') developed in collaboration with Charles Dickens for Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4). However, in each of his illustrations Herkomer offers a perceptive visual interpretation that he formulated prior to the book's serial publication.

An accomplished single-and-group portrait-painter, landscape artist, etcher, and lithographer (and the inventor of the "Herkomergravure" process), Sir Hubert Von Herkomer, R. A., was born in 1849 at Waal in southern Bavaria, making him nine years Hardy's junior. When Herkomer was eight, his father brought the family back to Europe from America, settling at Southampton. After some early training in his father's workshop in wood-engraving, at the age of 14 he attended the Southampton School of Art, then the Munich Academy, and finally the South Kensington School of Art in 1866. With the acceptance by the recently-founded Graphic of his drawing of a gypsy encampment on Wimbledon common, a strong piece of social realism, Herkomer began a ten-year career as a magazine and book illustrator. Among the many British illustrated periodicals to which he contributed were the Quiver (1868), the Sunday Magazine (1870), Good Words For The Young (1870), the Illustrated London News (1871-3), London Society (1872), and the Cornhill Magazine (1872). After 1879 he shifted to portraiture, founded a commercial school of art at Bushey in Hertfordshire in 1883, and filled the post of Slade professor of fine art at Oxford from 1885 to 1894.

Between "Leisure Hours" in 1869 and "'They fool me to the top of my bent' (Hamlet)" in 1904 Herkomer exhibited 158 paintings at the Royal Academy, of which he became an Associate in 1879. As a consequence of his showing "Miss Katharine Grant" ("The Lady in White") and "Mrs. Sealbee, of Boston" ("The Lady in Black"), painted in 1884 and 1885 respectively, at the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in Paris, Herkomer was awarded the croix de chevalier in the Legion of Honour. The following year he painted his best-known work, "Kitchener of Khartoum," and was elected R. A. Among the other fourteen Herkomer pictures currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, London, is his 1879 watercolour of John Ruskin. Such titles as "After the Toil of the Day" (1873), "Christmas in a Workhouse" (1876), and "Our Village" (1890) reveal Herkomer's passion for exposing the plight of the under-privileged and his Courbet-like sympathy with the peasantry. "Herkomer made a specialty of large portrait groups, somewhat suggestive of those characteristic of seventeenth-century Holland," * but "His greatest strength was in his interiors with figures, observed with a Millet-like sense of form and compassion, melting into their surroundings" (Houfe 153). Bénézit commends Herkomer's figures for their extraordinary intensity of expression in the Pre-Raphaelite manner. The emotional and dramatic nature of his illustrations for The Graphic's serialisation of Tess is consistent with a visual artist who, according to the DNB,

composed music and wrote some operas which were performed at his private theatre at Bushey, not only designing the scenery but also inventing a new method of stage lighting from the side, and appearing himself as an actor. [252]

Herkomer's artistic output — his paintings of figure, genre, group, and historical subjects in particular — was well-suited to the era of 1870-1900, the popular taste of which was for pictures that demonstrated the correspondence between the verbal world created in the novelist's text and the real world of the reader-viewer.


The Dictionary of National Biography 1912-1921, ed. H. W. C. Davis and J. H. R. Weaver. London: Oxford University Press and Humphrey Milford, 1927. P. 251.

Hubert von Herkomer

Last modified 14 October 2002