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Gertrude Hermes

© Simon Hughes-Stanton & Judith Russell

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Gertrude Hermes

by Gertrude Hermes
wood engraving, 1949
8 in. x 6 in. (203 mm x 152 mm) plate size
Given by Lloyd Tyrell-Kenyon, 5th Baron Kenyon, 1988
Primary Collection
NPG 6002

Sitterback to top

  • Gertrude Hermes (1901-1983), Artist. Sitter in 1 portrait, Artist of 5 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Gertrude Hermes (1901-1983), Artist. Artist of 5 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Sculptor, printmaker and painter; member of the London Group (from 1935); taught extensively in London art schools; worked with her husband, Blair Hughes-Stanton on wood engravings for 'The Pilgrim's Progress' (Cresset Press, 1926). In 1964, along with Anne Redpath and Dame Laura Knight, Hermes was invited to dinner at the Assembly Rooms by the Royal Academy thus breaking a masculine tradition of 196 years.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 87 Read entry

    Born in Kent, Gertrude Hermes studied first at Beckenham School of Art from 1919 to 1921 and then at Leon Underwood's School of Painting and Sculpture between 1922 and 1926, gaining the Prix de Rome in 1925. The following year she married the artist and printmaker Blair Hughes-Stanton (1902-81), though they were divorced in 1932. She taught at the Royal Academy Schools, at St Martin's School of Art and at the Central School of Art. She became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1963 and in 1964, together with Anne Redpath (1895-1965) and Dame Laura Knight, was invited to an Academy banquet, thus breaking a masculine tradition of 196 years. This was as a result of her letter of protest: 'No, I am not a feminist, nor have I ever felt the need to fight for rights, or anything like that. Just an artist and as such I cannot accept sex discrimination in the world of Art.' In 1971 she was elected to the Royal Academy.

    Hermes designed the 9100mm (22’ 10”) sculptured glass window for the British Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Internationale of 1937, and was selected to represent Britain in the 1940 Venice Biennale. This was cancelled because of the outbreak of World War II, which Hermes spent in New York and Montreal with her two children. During this period she undertook war work as a draughtswoman for shipyards and aircraft factories. She exhibited widely, with the English Wood Engraving Society from 1925 to 1931, with the London Group from 1934, and at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, in 1949. She was given a retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1967 and at the Royal Academy in 1981. Her work can be seen in several public collections including the Tate, the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

    Hermes is renowned for the narrative, symbolic compositions she created in black-and-white print; she called herself a 'book decorator', but she also made sculptures in wood and bronze, receiving a medal from the Society of Portrait Sculpture in 1967. Hermes, like Dame Ethel Walker was awarded the Order of the British Empire (1982). Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) influenced her wood sculptures and one can detect their presence in this print which, with its fluid lines and play on profile/full-face, is an elegant yet simple portrait of the artist with a distinctly three-dimensional feel. Bryan Robertson, an avant-garde and respected curator who was Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery from 1952 to 1968, remarked that Hermes' work demonstrated 'a continual and agreeable tension between sobriety and verve, classical order and sensual impulse'. (This and previous quote taken from K. Deepwell, 'Gertrude Hermes' in Dictionary of Women Artists, Vol. I, 1997.)

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 299

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1949back to top

Current affairs

Following the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, the Irish Free State becomes the Republic of Ireland and leaves the Commonwealth. The functions previously given to the King were handed to the President of Ireland.
The Second Parliament Act diminishes the power of the House of Lords, reducing their authority to delay bills from two years to one.

Art and science

George Orwell publishes his dystopian novel, 1984. The book imagines a future where totalitarian governments rule; their power based on continual war abroad, and overwhelming propaganda and surveillance at home. With 'Big Brother' keeping a constant check on the citizens' actions and thoughts, the individual loses the faculties of free will and independent thought.


The People's Republic of China is created after the Communist Party wins the Civil War. China became a communist country under Mao Zedong.
Cold War tensions increase as Germany is split into the democratic Federal Republic of Germany in the west (a union of the post-war British, French and American sectors), and the communist German Democratic Republic, in the east.

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