John Rogers Herbert

(23 January 1810 - 17 March 1890)

This painter was bom at Maldon and became a pupil at the Royal Academy schools in 1826. His first work as a professional artist was concerned with book illustrations, and he also took up the painting of portraits, but he soon relinquished both of these branches of his art in favour of the composition of large pictures representing religious scenes. Converted to Catholicism when but twenty-six years of age, he became a man of strong and almost fierce religious convictions, threw all his energy into religion, and looked upon his art solely as a means towards the prosecution of his ideas and convictions as a "handmaid, pure and simple, for the greater glory of God." He exhibited his first religious picture, 'The Appointed Hour' (1835 or 1839?); 'Christ and the Woman of Samaria' (1843); 'St. John the Baptist reproving Herod' (1848); and 'The Virgin Mary' (1860), the last-mentioned picture being at once purchased by Queen Victoria.

In 1841 Herbert became Associate of the Royal Academy, and was elected Academician in 1846, when he received a commission to paint the frescoes in the new Houses of Parliament, amongst which the most notable are the 'Descent of Moses from Sinai,' 'Human Justice,' and 'King Lear.' These were executed in the water-glass process, and attracted some considerable attention at the time, being remarkable for their powerful colouring, strong composition, and well-balanced distribution of masses, combined with skilful conduct of lines.

Princess Victoria in 1834

Mr. Herbert sent into the Royal Academy 'To Labour is to Pray' (1862); 'The Valley of Moses' (1868); 'The Bay of Salamis' (1870); 'All that's Bright must Fade' (1871); 'Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross' (1873); 'The Adoration of the Magi' (1874); 'David whilst a Sheplierd,' and 'Our Lord after the Resurrection' (1878).

His works appealed to the popular taste, and were the subject of some skilful reproductions in the then newly-discovered process in colour-printing by lithography. By this means they were distributed far and wide, being used very largely for Sunday Schools and in classes, and giving to the artist a renown that the pictures themselves hardly warranted. There was but little imagination about the work of Herbert, but it was the result of careful study and of eager desire to be as accurate in colouring, in costume, and in local detail as possible, whilst his drawing was accurate and careful. Although he painted the scenes from the Holy Land over and over again, yet he never visited the East, deriving all his information from books and from converse with those who had been to the lands wliich he was never able to spare time to visit. It is surprising, therefore, to find how very accurate he generally was.

He became a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in France, and also received honorary membership of the National Academy of New York. He was never tired of talking about the "nobility of art," of exalting it upon every occasion, and of condemning many of the pictures painted in his day, especially in France, by reason of the immorality and dissoluteness of their subjects. He narrowly escaped being the subject of some serious difficulty in the Institute of France on one occasion when he was visiting in Paris, by reason of his outspoken rebuke of certain important pictures exhibited at the Salon, and was in many ways not as cautious in liis criticism of the work of other artists as he might have been. He was a remarkable looking man, of a deep olive complexion, and with very dark, piercing eyes, and wore a long white beard, making him altogether almost Eastern in appearance. He was a brilliant talker, a strong controversialist, and excellent company, but a man of the most uncompromising opinions, and respected for the stability of his purpose. He died in 1890, having retired from the Academy many years before his death, and having ceased to paint for the last few years of his strenuous life on account of his eyesight having been seriously impaired.

Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876, Reprinted, 1894, 1899

John Rogers Herbert, R. A. Became a pupil at the Royal Academy in 1826. Studied in Italy. Originally painted portraits and designs for book illustrations. His first work of importance was "The Appointed Hour" (1835 or 1839?). He exhibited his "Brides of Venice" (1839 or 1843?); "Christ and the Woman of Samaria" (1843); "St. John the Baptist reproving Herod" (1848); and the "Virgin Mary" (1860); property of the Queen. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1841, and Academician in 1846, when he received a commission to paint the frescos in the new Parliament House, executing, among others, "Moses' Descent from Sinai,"(1866), "King Lear," and "Human Justice." He sent to the Royal Academy, "To Labor is to Pray" (1862); "The Valley of Moses" (1868); "The Bay of Salami" (1870); "All that's Bright must Fade" (1871); "Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross" (1873); "The Adoration of the Magi" (1874); "David while a Shepherd at Bethlehem" and "Our Lord after the Resurrection" (1878). In 1870, Mr. Herbert was elected Foreign Member of the Academy of Fine Arts, Institute of France.

"We cannot concede our impressions that as a veritable representation of a given event, Mr. Herbert's fresco ['Moses returning from the Mount'] completely fails. But at the same time we would, in conclusion, remind our readers once more, not only of the worth of his conscientious labors in other respects, but of the amazing, the almost insuperable difficulties of this subject... There is Indeed much which does credit to the painter. There is drawing, if not powerful yet more careful than the English school generally reaches; a well-balanced distribution of masses, with a skillful conduct of the lines and as elaborate a study of Oriental dress and of characteristic figures as could be made by a painter who has not visited the East." -- Palgrave's Essays on Art.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century; their Works & Biographical Sketches, Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879

English painter who is most notable as a precursor of Pre-Raphaelitism.Early career: John Rogers Herbert was born in Maldon, Essex. In 1826, he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy. However, after the death of his father in 1828, Herbert was forced to leave the Academy school and began painting professionally -- mostly book illustrations and portraiture. He was successful in his early career, even painting a portrait of Princess Victoria in 1834. However, he was not satisfied with mere money-making portraits and illustrations. His early sketches predict his later interest in larger historical subjects with challenging moral themes and complex compositions. His early subjects were romantic, and many are taken from Venetian history. His work exhibited at the British Institution and the Royal Society of British Artists had titles such as: "The Plain Gold Ring" (1832), "A Lady Watching the Stars" (1834) and "Guilt and Innocence" (1834). Herbert's first major success was "The Appointed Hour" (1835-?39), depicting a melodramatic scene in which a Venetian man lies murdered at the place appointed for a tryst with his lover. The work became a popular engraving. Herbert followed it with other dramatic subjects such as "Captives Detained for a Ransom, by Condottieri" (1836) and "Death of Haidee" (1838).

Conversion and Pre-Raphaelitism: Herbert had been childhood friends with architect A. W. Pugin, and the two men were very close. Pugin, who was co-architect for the New Palace of Westminster, was a convert to Catholicism and had an influence on Herbert's decision to join the Catholic Church, which happened around 1840. It was in 1840 that Herbert painted his first 'Catholic' picture, "Boar Hunters and Pilgrims of the 15th Century Receiving Refreshments at the Gate of a Convent." Herbert's conversion to the Catholic faith is a defining point in his career. His art gains a deeper purpose and becomes much more personal.

Herbert was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1841, and became a full member in 1846. Herbert's work influenced the newly formed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood -- who asked him to sponsor their publication The Germ, and whose artistic goal was to 'out-Herbert Herbert'. Herbert's paintings "The First Introduction of Christianity into Great Britain" (1842) and "Our Saviour Subject to his Parents in Nazareth" (1847) were the inspiration for the two most important early works of William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, founders of Pre-Raphaelitism. The two paintings, Hunt's "A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary" and Millais' "Christ in the House of His Parents" were exhibited at the R.A. in 1850, to great controversy. Herbert used his position within the R.A. to help the young artists.

Westminster frescoes: When the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834, it was considered a great opportunity for British Art. In 1845 Herbert was commissioned, along with several other artists, to paint scenes from English literature in the Poet's Hall in the Palace of Westminster. The commission followed several cartoon competitions and much national coverage, and Herbert was assigned a subject from Shakespeare, Lear Disinheriting Cordelia.

"Lear Disinheriting Cordelia" (1850) is the first work of Hebert's to show the overt influence of the Nazarenes. The fresco, and related oil works, were critically and publicly acclaimed. However, the fresco itself began to deteriorate almost immediately. Modern restoration has discovered the problem to have been a combination of fire and gas pollution and the use of lime plaster.

After the success of Lear, Herbert was commissioned in 1850 to paint nine more frescoes in the Peer's Robing Room, on the theme of "Justice on Earth, and its development in Law and Judgement". The frescoes would illustrate scenes from Biblical history including "Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law to the Israelites," (1858–64), "The Fall of Man," "His Condemnation to Labour," "The Judgement of Solomon," "The Visit of the Queen of Sheba," "The Building of the Temple," "The Judgement of Daniel," "Daniel in the Lion’s Den" and "The Vision of Daniel."

Herbert began on Moses in 1858. The process was painstaking and frustrating, owing to the continuous deterioration of the fresco as he painted it. In 1861, Herbert erased the entire work and started again in the waterglass technique, as suggested by Prince Albert. He finally finished in 1864, but the time taken to understand the technique was unexpected, and had not produced a perfect result, as the painting continued to deteriorate. Nevertheless, Herbert considered Moses one of his most important works.

Herbert negotiated a higher rate than originally agreed for Moses, owing to the time it had taken him to complete it. However, because of the delay, the death of Prince Albert and the unsuccessful fresco and waterglass techniques, Herbert's commissions for the other works were cancelled. However, he painted "The Judgement of Daniel" in oil, and presented it to the Palace years later, in 1880.

Algernon Graves, The British Institution 1806–1867; Wikipedia

Herbert, John Rogers, b. January 23, 1810, at Maldon, Essex, England; d. in London, March 17, 1890. He was admitted as a student of the Royal Academy in 1826, and in 1830 his first picture, "A Country Boy", was exhibited at the Academy. For some years he painted pictures, chiefly inspired by Byron's poems. He visited Italy in 1836, and sent several paintings to the Royal Academy, which attracted general attention. On his return to London, he made the acquaintance of Augustus Welby Pugin, the architect, whose portrait he painted. They became intimate friends, and through Pugin's influence Herbert was received into the Church in 1840.

In 1841, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and exhibited a portrait of Cardinal Wiseman, whose close friend he remained until the cardinal's death. From this time forward he chose for his subjects only religious scenes. The first of these was "The First Introduction of Christianity into Britain", which at once established his reputation as a great historical painter. In the following year he exhibited "Sir Thomas More and his Daughter observing from the prison window the Monks being led to execution", a work which attracted general attention. His diploma picture, upon his election as a Royal Academician in 1846, was "St. Gregory the Great teaching Roman boys to sing the Chant which received his name". At that date there was a strong feeling among Protestants against the Church, and much indignation was expressed by the press against the subjects chosen and the religious tone of their composition. But Herbert was absolutely fearless and independent, for his works were recognized by connoisseurs as masterpieces. He was then selected by the Government to paint a series of nine frescoes in the peers' robing room of the House of Lords, illustrative of human justice. The subjects chosen were: "The Fall of Man"; "His Condemnation to Labor"; "Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law"; "The Judgment of Solomon"; "The Visit of the Queen of Sheba"; "The Building of the Temple"; "The Judgment of Daniel"; "Daniel in the Lions' Den"; "The Vision of Daniel". All of these were executed in stereochrome, a process which had been adopted by Maclise, but which Herbert subsequently recognized to have been a mistake, as not being durable. He therefore painted replicas of them in oil. In 1849 he was commissioned to paint in the Poets' Hall "King Lear disinheriting Cordelia", a replica of which he exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1849. In 1860, he painted for Queen Victoria a picture of the Blessed Virgin which Her Majesty highly valued and preserved in her private apartments until her death. It is said that the last look of her husband, Prince Albert, on his deathbed was directed to this picture.

In the History of the Royal Academy, Mr. Sandby writes of Herbert: "All his pictures are the fruit of long study and most careful workmanship; he paints slowly and minutely; he is said to have cut out portions of his Lear picture five times before he was satisfied... Extreme simplicity, elaborate finish, deep and earnest expression, avoidance of accessories, except such as are suggestive of deeper meaning, and, in sacred subjects, a feeling of devotion and spirituality characterize his work, and a dignity in the human form rarely found in modern English artists." From the time of his conversion Herbert proved himself a zealous and practical Catholic. He stood firmly by Cardinal Wiseman during the stormy period which followed the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England, and took a prominent part in all Catholic works. He was one of the founders of the English branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, of the St. Vincent's home for destitute boys, the patronage committee, etc. He was also one of the founders of the Peter's Pence Association in England. With failing health, he retired in 1886, having built a handsome house and studio at Kilburn, in the suburbs of London and adjoining the church of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He died there and was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Kensal Green.

Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 7, John Rogers Herbert, by Archibald Joseph Dunn

HERBERT, JOHN ROGERS (1810–1890), portrait and historical painter, was born on 23 Jan. 1810 at Maldon in Essex, where his father was a controller of customs. He came to London in 1826, and was admitted a student of the Royal Academy, where in 1830 appeared his first exhibited picture, a "Portrait of a Country Boy." He continued for some years to paint portraits for a livelihood, but varied his work by designing book illustrations and painting romantic and ideal subjects, which were often suggested by the poetry of Byron. The first of these to attract attention was "The Appointed Hour," a picture representing a Venetian lover lying assassinated at the foot of a staircase which his mistress is hastening to descend. It was exhibited at the British Institution in 1834, and engraved by John C. Bromley, and again by Charles Rolls for the Keepsake of 1836. This success induced Herbert to visit Italy, in order to gather materials for fresh subjects. In 1836, he sent to the Royal Academy "Captives detained for Ransom by Condottieri"; in 1837, "Desdemona interceding for Cassio" and in 1838, to the British Institution, "Haidee," "The Elopement of Bianca Capello," and "The Signal," engraved, together with "The Lady Ida," by Lumb Stocks for the Keepsake of 1841. "The Brides of Venice" appeared at the Royal Academy in 1839, and this was followed in 1840 by "Boar-hunters refreshed at St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury." About the same time he became a convert to the church of Rome, chiefly through the influence of Augustus Welby Pugin [q. v.], whose portrait he afterwards painted. He exhibited at the Academy in 1841 "Pirates of Istria bearing oft the Brides of Venice from the Cathedral of Olivolo," engraved with other subjects in Roscoe's Legends of Venice (London, 1841), but henceforward his works were more frequently of a religious character, and often imbued with the reverent spirit of mediaeval art.

Herbert was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1841, and on the formation of the government school of design at Somerset House in the same year he was appointed one of the masters. In 1842 his contributions to the Academy were "The First Introduction of Christianity into Britain" and a portrait of Cardinal Wiseman; in 1843, "Christ and the Woman of Samaria," engraved by Samuel Bellin; and in 1844, "Sir Thomas More and his Daughter observing from the Prison Window the Monks going to Execution," engraved by John Outrim, and "The Acquittal of the Seven Bishops," engraved by S. W. Reynolds, but painted some years earlier. In 1846, Herbert became a royal academician, and presented as his diploma work "St. Gregory the Great teaching the Roman Boys to sing the Chant which has received his Name," exhibited the year before. In 1847, he sent to the Academy "Our Saviour subject to his Parents at Nazareth," and in 1848, St. John the Baptist reproving Herod." About this time he painted also the "Assertion of Liberty of Conscience by the Independents in the Westminster Assembly of Divines, 1644," engraved by S. Bellin. For the decoration of the houses of parliament Herbert was commissioned to paint in fresco in the Poets' Hall "King Lear disinheriting Cordelia," a replica of which in oil was exhibited at the Academy in 1849, and again at the Royal Jubilee exhibition at Manchester in 1887. To him was also assigned the decoration of the Peers' Robing Room, for which he painted a series of nine subjects illustrative of "Human Justice." They represent "Man's Fall" and "Man's Condemnation to Labour," "The Judgment of Solomon," "The Visit of the Queen of Sheba," "The Building of the Temple," "The Judgment of Daniel," "Daniel in the Lions' Den," "The Vision of Daniel," and "Moses bringing the Tables of the Law." The "Moses" was executed in the waterglass process, and was in progress fourteen years. It is a work of great merit, and marks the culminating point of the artist's career. The principal works which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in later years were a portrait of Horace Vernet in 1855; "The Virgin Mary," painted for Queen Victoria, in 1860; "Laborare est Orare," in 1862; "Judith," in 1863; "The Sower of Good Seed," in 1865; "St. Edmund, King of East Anglia, on the Morning of his last Battle with the Danes," in 1867: "The Valley of Moses in the Desert of Sinai," in 1868; "The Bay of Salamis," in 1869; "All that's Bright must Fade," in 1871; "St. Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross," in 1873; and "The Adoration of the Magi," in 1874. His subsequent works gradually grew so weak as to give rise to frequent protests against the positions assigned to them on the walls of the Royal Academy. Herbert retired from the rank of academician in 1886, but continued to exhibit till 1889. He died at The Chimes, Kilburn, London, on 17 March 1890, and his remains were deposited in the catacombs of St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green.

Herbert's picture of "Sir Thomas More and his Daughter" is in the Vernon collection in the National Gallery.

Of Herbert's sons, Arthur John (1834-1856) exhibited in 1855 at the Academy "Don Quixote's first impulse to lead the life of a knight-errant," and in 1856, "Philip IV. of Spain knighting Velasquez." He died of fever in Auvergne 18 September 1856. Cyril Wiseman, another son, is separately noticed.

[Times, 20 March 1890; Athenæum, 1890, i. 377; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the English School, p. 209; Sandby's History of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1862, ii. 179-81; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1830-89; British Institution Exhibition Catalogues (Living Artists), 1832-43.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 26, Herbert, John Rogers, by Robert Edmund Graves

View painter's art: JOHN ROGERS HERBERT (1810-1890) [new window view]


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