Mike and Misha Herwin
Collecting: Herbert Dicksee by Nick Waters
from Dogs Monthly, December 1985
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England has a great tradition for producing artists renowned for their interpretation of Man’s best friend ‑ the dog.
The last hundred years has seen internationally known and accepted artists as the Earls‑ George, Thomas and Maud ‑ along with Lillian Cheviot, F.T. Daws, Arthur Wardle and R.Ward Binks, to list a few.
Most had in common the patronage of some of the top kennels of their day and commissions from publishers for their work to be reproduced in books, on cigarette cards etc.,
To my mind, one of the most gifted, for the interpretation of the feelings and thoughts, and both the power and gentleness of his subjects, was Herbert Thomas Dicksee. Following his death and until more recent years, he has been a very much neglected artist. His works today still command much less than works by some of his contemporaries.
Dicksee was born into an artistic family that started with Robert Dicksee. He had two sons ‑ lohn Robert who was born in 1817, and Thomas Francis who was born in 1819. The two brothers married the Miss Barnard sisters and each union produced two artists. Thomas was the father of Francis ( Frank) and Margaret. Frank was to become President of the Royal Academy from 1924‑ 1928 and was knighted in 1925. John (not Thomas as is listed in some reference books) was the father of Herbert and also Amy. In 1896 Herbert married Ella, the daughter of Sir William Crump, and they had a son and a daughter. Their son Maurice was killed in the first World War whilst their daughter Dorothy showed an artistic flair and studied art
Herbert was born in 1862 and lived all his life in London, firstly at Fitzroy Square, then Cranfield Gardens, dying in 1942 whilst living at Hampstead. He is best known for his etchings and prints, the main publisher being Klackmer of London and New York and the originals were mainly executed in oils.
Listed today as an animal specialist, he first studied art at the Slade School where he won medals for painting and drawing from life, and also a Slade Scholarship.
He became drawing master at the City of London School and Herbert Dicksee’s first picture was exhibited in 1881. Thereafter well over 300 of his works were exhibited in various galleries ‑ Fine Arts Society, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, Manchester City Art Gallery etc, but by far the majority at the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers and the Royal Academy. He had a long association with the latter, his first picture exhibited there being "Watercress Beds‑ Surrey" in 1885, and the last "The Kill" in 1933. Dicksee's first dog picture exhibited at the Royal Academy was of Dingoes attacking sheep, after a picture by Alfred Strutt.
Studies From Life
Dicksee is equally well known for his interpretation of large cats, as he is for dogs, all his animals being studies from life. He was a Fellow of the London Zoological Society and studied and worked for many hours in the big cats house at London Zoo. In fact it has been said that his children were brought up in the Lions’ House! One lion was led out which they were allowed to stroke.
In his youth, for reasons of both health and adventure, he travelled under sail to New Zealand. As a result there are some published etchings from pictures painted on this tour, “The Bullock Trains” being just one.
The dogs he painted were also done from life, the various members of the family being great dog lovers and owning a number of breeds. The Deerhound was one of Herbert Dicksee’s favourite breeds and the ones he owned feature in many of his etchings.
He was also a familiar sight in parts of London with his Bloodhound who, with head down on a scent, would tow Dicksee to any destination where he‑ the Bloodhound ‑ wished to go!
The Dandie Dinmont puppy and Pugs were also family dogs, as was the favourite Bull Terrier‑ the young lady appearing with the dog being none other than Gladys Cooper the actress who appears in other Dicksee etchings with dogs.
The black French Bulldog, ’Shaver’, featured in etchings was the only dog Dicksee ever entered for a show. At one show in Olympia, Dicksee walked the dog from Hampstead to the show venue to try to get weight off him before he went in the ring!
Probably his best known dog picture would be “Where’s Master?”, following a commission from King Edward Vll to paint his favourite dog, a terrier, who is also immortalised in books of the period under the same title. The picture was exhibited in 1911.
Herbert Dicksee was a very happily married man and a very private man. Those close to him often overlooked the fact that he was a well known artist and it is good to see his work being once again appreciated.
Many of his pictures of beautiful but sad young ladies, being comforted by thoughtful dogs, were painted around the war years andexpress the feelings of the nation at that time for lost loved ones. This was not the mood of Dicksee himself who was a very jolly man.
Every Cloud has a Silver Lining
The illustrations used in this article are reproduced
from etchings and prints in the collection of Mr. & Mrs. Herwin, and I am
grateful for their help.
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