Sir Hubert von Herkomer
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir Hubert von Herkomer
by (Edward) Onslow Ford
Bronze, circa 1897
28 in. (711 mm) high
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Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated behind left shoulder: ‘E.Onslow Ford 1896’;
incised on back: ‘Hubert Herkomer’.
This portraitback to top
In 1877 the artist first produced a bust of the sitter in terracotta (NPG 6196) and his return to the same task nearly twenty years later resulted in this portrait in bronze, of which two castings are known. It was shown at the Royal Academy in 1897, by which time the sitter was a celebrated figure who had served as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford.
Though no close friendship is recorded, by the 1890s Edward Onslow Ford and Herkomer were fellow-Academicians. Owing to Herkomer’s attitude to productivity, it is likely that the bust was modelled during mutual sittings, with Herkomer drawing Ford at the same time for the portrait exhibited in 1898.  If so, sittings for the bust evidently began in 1895, and the incised date is that of its casting.
At the 1897 RA exhibition, Ford showed five other portrait busts, including heads of John Everett Millais, Herbert Spencer and actor George Alexander, which led one critic to note the sculptor’s ‘extraordinary power of seizing and realizing individual and transient expressions without descending to caricature’.  According to The Times, ‘of the best portraits, Mr Onslow Ford contributes very many; for he seems, with praiseworthy zeal, to be “taking off” his colleagues in turn, and this year gives us Mr Herkomer, Mr Briton Riviere and ... Sir John Everett Millais’. 
There is no information on the provenance of NPG 2461 before 1930, when its then owner, William Reynolds Stephens stated that he had ‘recently’ acquired it ‘for a very small sum’.  The other known cast, now with Bushey Library,  was presumably owned by the sitter or a neighbour/colleague. A modern fibreglass copy cast by David Perrett is in Bushey Museum.
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) RSPP 1898 (26). See ‘All known portraits, By other artists’ for E.O. Ford’s 1895 watercolour portrait by Herkomer; Landsberg 1999, p.105 n.110; and Christie’s, Newton Hall sale, 20 Jan. 2010 (201).
2) Athenaeum, 10 July 1897, p.72; however, this notice, by F.G. Stephens, does not mention the present work.
3) The Times, 16 June 1897, p.15.
4) NPG RP 2461.
5) Identical size and signature; inv. no.1965.43.
Physical descriptionback to top
Bust, head slightly to right, clean-shaven, with centre parting, jacket, waistcoat, shirt and tie.
Provenanceback to top
Sir William Reynolds Stephens, Pres. Roy. Soc. British Sculptors from whom purchased 1930.
Exhibitionsback to top
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London 1897 (2061).
Reproductionsback to top
The Studio, 1897, p.58 (probably from the other known cast).
Magazine of Art, 1898, p.72.