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Sir Hubert von Herkomer

1 of 2 portraits by Ernest Borough Johnson

Sir Hubert von Herkomer, by Ernest Borough Johnson, 1892 -NPG 3175 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Hubert von Herkomer

by Ernest Borough Johnson
Oil on paper laid on millboard, 1892
13 3/4 in. x 9 7/8 in. (350 mm x 250 mm)
NPG 3175

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated upper right: ‘H.H. in 1892 by / Borough Johnson / First Study for Portrait’.
On back, panel stamp: ‘Blanchet / 38 rue Bonaparte / Paris’.

This portraitback to top

This depicts the sitter in his early forties, after he had shaved off the thick black beard seen in NPG 2720 and NPG 6196 to reveal his lean features. The pose is characteristic, seen in portraits by other artists. The inscription is a later addition and the portrait for which this was the ‘first study’ was not painted until around 1942; it shows Herkomer half-length in reverse pose (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists’).

Painter and illustrator Ernest Borough Johnson, who is described as the sitter’s ‘friend and colleague’, [1] studied at the Slade under Alphonse Legros and then at Herkomer’s art school from 1889 to 1893. In 1891, when commissioned by the Graphic to provide illustrations for Thomas Hardy’s new novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Herkomer shared the task with a colleague and two students, including Johnson. Later, Johnson pursued a long but undistinguished artistic career, supported by teaching at Bedford College and Chelsea polytechnic.

Executed on paper that was subsequently and inexpertly laid on board, NPG 3175 is likely to have been a studio exercise in portraiture. The depiction is comparable to that in a chalk drawing also dated to 1892, which shows Herkomer in a similar but reversed pose, right hand to head. Both works were used by Johnson around 1942, as studies for his posthumous portrait of Herkomer ‘as I knew him 1892’. After that work was acquired by Nottingham Art Gallery in the same year, he wrote to the National Portrait Gallery, describing himself as a former professor of Fine Arts at London University, to offer the present image, stating, ‘I have in my studio a small oil portrait of the head of the late Prof. Sir Hubert Herkomer RA, which I think does me justice as an artist. It is an excellent likeness, painted some 40 [sic] years ago.’ [2] The discrepancy suggests that the inscription was added shortly before its presentation, after Johnson had checked the dates he was at Bushey. [3]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) See Edwards 1999, p.143 n.89; for Johnson’s self-portrait see NPG D3313. For a brief account of Johnson’s life, see David Setford’s article on him in Poole 1983, pp.32–3.
2) Letter from E.B. Johnson to H.M. Hake, 6 Jan. 1944, NPG RP 3175.
3) In the catalogues for the annual RA Summer Exhibition, where exhibitors’ current addresses are listed, Johnson gave an address in Bushey 1889–92 and 1895.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders, to front, with brown eyes, greying hair, wearing soft collar, loose-knotted yellow tie, gold ring on little finger of left hand.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1987.

Provenanceback to top

The artist, by whom presented 1944.

Exhibitionsback to top

Works by Ernest Borough Johnson, Transnational Arts Gallery, London, 1981.

View all known portraits for Sir Hubert von Herkomer