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From original by Mike Herwin

The Art of Mr Herbert Dicksee

by Enoch Scribe 

The following article was published in the Windsor magazine in April 1906.

It was illustrated by “The Watcher on the Hill” HD30309, “In the Enemy’s Country” HD30208, “The King” HD30219 , “The Raiders” HD30215, “The Destroyers” HD30308, “Silent Sympathy” HD10705, “The Little Gypsy” HD11802, “The Wishing Pool” HD101102, “Nearing Home” HD50501, “The Last Furrow” HD20005, “Against the Wind and Open Sky” HD20001 and “After Chevy Chase” (see HD80001 and After Chevy Chase page).
Most of the illustrations are shown as being of Frost and Reed’s copyright, except for Oh for the touch of a vanished hand (Fine Arts Society) and After Chevy Chase (no publisher shown)
The following other works are mentioned in the text:- 
DOG SECTION Beauty and the Beast, which was originally sold with both dogs, a Bull Terrier HD10402 and a Rough Collie HD11501 on one sheet but which is now more normally cut up and  the dogs sold individually, All His Troubles Before Him HD12106, Her First Love HD11001, A Happy Mother HD10202, Oh for the Touch of a Vanished Hand HD10703, The Fire Worshippers HD10711 and A Fellow Feeling HD10401.
BIG CAT SECTION A Wanderer HD30227 His Majesty HD30222, A Tigress HD30312, The Monarch of the Desert HD30229, Maternal Care HD30211 and Solitude HD30231.
PEOPLE SECTION On the threshold HD40003.
AFTER OTHER ARTISTS SECTION The Death of General Gordon HD70002, Hesperia HD70007, Memories HD70001 and The Boyhood of Raleigh HD70002.

Representations of these, except for Solitude, can all be found in the catalogue section off this site.

The article also includes  photographs of Herbert Dicksee at work in his studio and one of the studio, at the top of his house in Hampstead plus a representation of one of HD’s studies, a lioness head, for a picture. . These are inserted in the text. However as I only have a photocopy of a photocopy of the article, I apologise for the extremely poor quality of the reproduction  and again would welcome better copies.

I have had to re-type the article rather than scan it, and have done my best to reproduce it faithfully, even down to the sometimes eccentric punctuation and grammar together with political and social points, of no real relevance to Herbert Dicksee. In fact, I rather enjoy these. It is so refreshing to find someone who makes Brian Sewell sound up-to-date, egalitarian  and earthy, even if one has to go back 100 years to find him.

The Art of Mr Herbert Dicksee

by Enoch Scribe 
Windsor Magazine April, 1906

One would hardly suspect that a particularly picturesque and innocent-looking house on the borders of Hampstead Heath to be the birthplace of lions and tigers.  Even did the authorities of the local borough permit the breeding of wild beasts in the vicinity of the great pleasure ground, we doubt if the neighbours would consent.  But is not in the living and powerful flesh that “the king of the forest” is here created.  It is in the less harmful and more acceptable form of pictures that lions and tigers are here produced, but in so realistic and awe-inspiring a style that one would naturally conclude the artist had living models in his studio.  The medium adopted by Mr Herbert Dicksee—for it is he who brings these beasts into existence and makes them good company—is the etcher’s needle, though the artist is also a capable wielder of the brush.  His strikingly lifelike presentment of rampant lions and snarling tigers has of late years become very familiar to the general public, and curiosity to ascertain the genesis of these productions attracted me to the artist’s studio.

Mr. Herbert Dicksee studies his subjects from living models at the Zoological Gardens.  A friend once brought a lion cub home from Africa and offered it to him as a present.  The temptation to accept was only momentary, for a little reflection told the artist that the majestic beast would soon become troublesome. So the cub was declined with thanks, and Mr. Dicksee still etches the lineaments of his tribe.

Born of an artistic family, Mr. Dicksee had his path marked out by nature, and his progress assisted by kindly circumstance. His father was a painter who devoted himself chiefly to portraits, and his uncle was also a painter. The latter was the father of well-known artist, Mr. Frank Dicksee, R.A., and of the late Margaret Dicksee, who was a charming painter of old-world subjects.  Herbert Dicksee himself began to draw as soon as his fingers could move a pen, his first productions being copies of any book illustration that took his fancy.  His love for animals, which is not limited to the wild species, but also includes the domestic, was due to the influence of John Charlton, who always lent him his sketch-books and encouraged his work.  It is as a painter of dogs that he shows particular skill, and this skill is the offspring of a knowledge and sympathy that began when he was a child, and remains even stronger at the present day.

            At the age of sixteen he entered the Slade School, where he studied under Alphonse Legros, the distinguished etcher.  Whilst following a strict course in the life class and drawing from the antique, he devoted much time also to etching, which was zealously fostered there.  It is from the Slade School that a great number of members of the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers (to which Mr. Dicksee belongs) have come, the initial impetus that revived etching in this country having been started by Whistler and Seymour Haden about twenty-five years ago.  During his five years’ course at the school, the young Dicksee was successful in obtaining the Slade scholarship, in addition to several medals.  His love for animals developed during this formative period of his art, and he used to rise at six o’clock in the morning to visit the Zoological Gardens before visitors would arrive and obstruct his view.  There he was to be seen, morning after morning, making studies of the lions and tigers in the reposeful intervals of their restless movements.

            On leaving the school, Mr. Dicksee took a voyage to New Zealand.  This excursion to the Antipodes, slow and protracted as it must have been twenty years ago, did not yield much opportunity for the study of animal nature.  Nevertheless, it enabled him to become acquainted with a variety of atmospheric effects and wild background; and the knowledge thus gained is skilfully displayed in many of his pictures. On his return to England he began to devote himself seriously to the pursuit of art, for on its attainment depended his living.  In the first instance he turned his hand to black-and-white illustrations for books and magazines, and also designed Christmas cards and other humble productions.  As a boy he received his first commission from Sadler, who regularly undertook work from Tom Landseer at a time when etching had not reached the importance it now possesses.  A number of small plates that he etched at this period, already giving indication of his later power, are to be found in back numbers of the Art Journal and the Portfolio.  In his leisure he also painted pictures, and many of the subjects that are now familiar as etchings were first presented as oil paintings.

            One of the first important etchings that he undertook was the reproduction of “Hesperia,” the picture of his cousin, Mr. Frank Dicksee. The subject was by no means easy to handle, but he devoted to it several months of assiduous work and produced an excellent plate.  The success thus achieved encouraged him to proceed to more ambitious and original productions. As a result he gave forth “Beauty and the Beast,” which was disposed of with little difficulty and published in 1887, in the same year with “All His Troubles Before Him.”  After this he betook himself to his first lion plate, “His Majesty.”  He made his preliminary studies for this subject at the Zoological Gardens, and found that his model was by no means of an amiable disposition.  The artist would no sooner begin his work than the lion would turn his back and go to sleep in sheer boredom.  All attempts to rouse him and make him assume the desired pose were fruitless.  But a way out of the difficulty was discovered by accident.  One day the artist dropped his brush and stooped to pick it up.  No sooner did the animal see this movement, which it suspected to be an attack, than it at once bristled up and remained alert.  Henceforth the artist only had to pretend that he was picking up a missile, and his model stood to attention.  The memory of the lion must have been long-lived, for on paying it a visit a year afterwards the artist met with a rather hostile welcome.

            His next animal plate was “A Wanderer,” which literally became a wanderer among the publishers.  They all looked askance at it, declaring that the public would not buy “lions.”  Ultimately, however, it was issued on a royalty agreement, though even then the printsellers required persuasion to exhibit it. But the apprehension thus shown was completely dispelled when once the plate came before the public, for every proof was sold.  After this came “A Tigress.”  With the aid of a certain keeper who had earned the enmity of the beast, the tigress was roused to the necessary snarl.  The man had only to walk past the cage, and the beast assumed the snarling pose desired by the artist.

            Mr. Dicksee understands that an element in the art of success (and perhaps also in the success of art) is variety, and this principle has guided him in his work.  Though publishers were at first reluctant to take up his etchings of wild animals, and then became eager about them as a result of the public’s favourable response, the artist perceived that the tide might begin to ebb.  Hence he turned to more homely themes, to figure subjects, in which he deftly portrayed the sympathy of mankind.  There could be no greater contrast than that between the felicity of these domestic scenes and the ferocity of the forest beasts, but the artist showed his mastery in both.  To this homely category belongs his next plate, “Memories,” which is a reproduction of another picture by Mr. Frank Dicksee. This was followed by an etching of his own Academy picture, Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand!”  Proofs of this plate are now very rare, and the lapse of time has enhanced their price to about ten times the amount at which they were originally sold –thus proving that time means money in a way not always understood.

            The artist’s first great popular success was attained by his plate, “Silent Sympathy.”  This production occupied him many months, as he had to try several models before he felt satisfied.  The labour he spent on it, however, received its due reward in the immediate favour shown by the public when he issued it in 1894. The plate depicts a young and handsome girl seated in a wicker armchair, with her hand supporting her head of flowing tresses, gazing at the fire with an air of sad anxiety.  At her side, his graceful forelegs stretched across the rug, lies a stately deerhound, resting his chin on the knees of his mistress and looking up to her in “silent sympathy.”  The sweet communion thus touchingly expressed at once secured the interest of an appreciative public. In response to a demand for a companion picture, Mr. Dicksee produced “Her First Love,” but between the two he executed “The Monarch of the Desert” and “Solitude,” the latter being a subject that he had previously treated in water colour.  In chronological order we next come to “A Happy Mother” for the models of which, a little family of bloodhound puppies, the artist had to travel to the New Forest.  In striking contrast to this, both in theme and presentation, is his etching after Joy’s picture of “The death of Gordon.”  This was followed by an original subject, “A Fellow Feeling,” in which a flower-girl, seated on a doorstep, is handing a crust to a dog that looks all forlorn.

            As is frequently the case, a mere accident suggested to the artist the theme of another of his most popular plates.  This is “The Last Furrow,” which was based on a glimpse seen from the window of a railway-carriage while passing near Harrow.  The picture has a striking distinctiveness, and vividly realises the fatigued and struggling horses and the plodding ploughman as they cut up the last stretch of soil.  The publishers looked on it doubtfully, owing to the change of subject but the plate has been sold out, and is now at a high premium.  It has a companion in “Against the Wind and Open Sky.”  In 1898 appeared another notable etching, representing a reversion to the “wild beast period.”  This was “The Raiders.” After the artist’s picture which was exhibited in the Royal Academy.  The keen yet cautious gaze of the two animals at once arrests attention, and the rugged formation of the uprising rock and the remote expanse of light, with the desert atmosphere pervading all, give a graphic and convincing presentment of a scene in the wilds of Africa. Its companion plate, “Maternal Care,” also from a picture by the etcher, shows a lioness proudly stationed beside the brink of a river, while her little cub nestles closely to her side.

            Again, the artist left his friends of the forest, this time for his own dogs.  As they lay before the hearth, fascinated by the fire, they suggested to him his etching of “Fire Worshippers.”  But he soon returned to the wilds, and in “The Watcher on the Hill” (1900) he presented a tiger, throbbing with vice and violence, squatting on a head of lofty rock and gazing down with an eye of insatiable greed. This was followed by several other plates belonging to the same category of subject.  “In the Enemy’s Country” shows a lion and his mate looking down from an elevated boulder upon the country below, the distance illuminated by the powerful rays of a tropical moon.  “The King” represents the stately and solitary figure of a lion with majestic mane, proudly rearing his body against the heavens. In “The Destroyers” we see two prowling tigers advancing into the open country to slake their thirst in a running stream.

            With all Mr. Dicksee’s faithful delineation of these savage beasts, and his realistic representation of their wild haunts—even to the very heat of the atmosphere and the solitude of the landscape—it is a most remarkable fact that he has never seen a beast of prey in its native home. Almost all his studies are made at the Zoological Gardens, whilst for his backgrounds he confesses that he makes use of photographs, and justifies his methods by the results. The Boer War produced one good effect, so far as he was concerned, inasmuch as it resulted in many photographs of African scenery being published.  He uses these photographs, however, merely as suggestions, discovering some scenery of approximate resemblance in the British Isles, and then making a direct study from nature.  Once, indeed, he was invited to join a party of three friends who proposed penetrating the wilds of Algeria.  One was going to shoot, another to explore and the third to sketch.  Mr. Dicksee, however, was not attracted by the prospect, for he had no guarantee that a lion would emerge from its lair except at night, and the glimpse he might then get could easily be realised by his own imagination.  He made studies also at the menagerie attached to the Hall-by-the-Sea, a popular Margate music-hall, where great success has been attained in breeding cubs.  Though tame when young and bred in captivity, these cubs usually become dangerous by their fifth year, and, for the purpose of the artist, display the same characteristics as if they had been born free.  Mr. Dicksee, who is very scrupulous about the anatomy of his models, obtains casts of legs and limbs from dead beasts.  In his portrayal of domestic animals, however, he is able to be at close quarters with his models.  Once he kept as many as six dogs, but he found they involved too much attention and distracted him from his work, so that now he has only a toy spaniel actually in his home.  Whenever he wants a dog now as a model, his friends are always eager to oblige him.

            We have still to mention several other etchings that Mr. Dicksee has produced. One of them is after “The Boyhood of Raleigh,” painted by Millais nearly thirty years ago, which was purchased by Lady Tate for over £5,000, and presented to the Tate Gallery in memory of her husband.  Among original subjects is “The Wishing Pool,” which is a radical departure from his usual style of theme.  A girl in old-world dress is gazing into a circling pool and trying to divine her destiny.  In the background is a panorama of the countryside, beautifully distinct, showing turret and ancient steeple rising above the thick foliage.  “On the Threshold” depicts a village doorway, the young mistress of the home standing with an air of weariness on the upper step, and a little dog lying drowsy on the ground. “Nearing Home” is another plate in a minor key, representing a shepherd taking his flock back to their pen.  The light effects obtained in this plate are a triumph for the etcher’s needle, which has also, with singular skill and care, delineated each member of the returning flock.  One of Mr. Dicksee’s latest productions is a plate entitled “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot.”  An old collie is looking up pathetically at its mistress, who is playing with a little pup, while seated near a window.

            Mr. Dicksee is a very painstaking artist, and spends at least here or four months over each plate.  In the winter he generally continues working after sunset, and arranges an electric lamp to shed its light through a screen of tissue-paper.  To tone down the glare resulting from constantly having his eyes on the burnished sheet of copper, he sometimes wears blue glasses. His etchings are now in such popular and frequent demand that he cannot find any time for painting, and he has even ceased to accept any commissions for his usual work, so that he may enjoy a feeling of freedom.  As evidence of his versatility, it may be mentioned that he has also worked in pastel, and modelled a bronze of a tiger in conjunction with a young sculptor, Mr. F. Blundstone.

            It may be questioned whether the general public, as a whole, shows as much appreciation of etchings as of paintings.  The unsophisticated mind loves colour and all the clear contrasts that the wielder of the brush can produce.  Attractiveness in a picture for this section of the people—and here, perhaps, one nation differs little from another – consists not so much in the subject that is shown, as in the medium in which the subject is presented : not so much in the what as in the how, as an ancient Greek philosopher might have put it.  It would, therefore, be thought that the art of Mr. Dicksee is being exercised merely for the aesthetic gratification of an eclectic circle, for those who have received an artistic education and are inspired with a love for the best and truest in the artist’s craft.  This reflection, however, is only partly true, for extended observation has shown that the poor—whose minds are only too often impoverished equally with their bodies—are quite often as keen admirers of Mr. Dicksee’s work as those whom fortune or circumstance has favoured in greater measure.  It is commonly supposed that the public art gallery is the poor man’s gallery, but this is a supposition of only partial truth.  An exhibition such as that periodically held at Whitechapel Art Gallery is undoubtedly for the poor man, but in this case as in most others the bulk of the visitors belong to the middle classes, and even to those fairly well-to-do who overcome their dislike to making an excursion into an insalubrious district because of the temporary things bright and beautiful that they will see there.  The real poor man’s gallery is the window of the art-dealer’s shop, and if the frequency with which the needy dwellers in the “mean streets” gaze with unspoken appreciation at Mr. Dicksee’s etching there exhibited is any criterion, then the wide appeal made by his delicate art is free from all manner of doubt.

            The conservatism of the Royal Academy in the method in which it selects its members has been a frequent theme of comment and criticism.  It may be explained as the inveterate aversion from any change which is characteristic of most old-established British institutions.  But whatever the real cause, and whatever palliation may have been necessary to justify the attitude, it is satisfactory to observe a welcome advance upon a long-continued policy.  By this we allude, of course, to the recent election of Mr. Frank Short and Mr. William Strang as members of the Academy, on their merits as etchers and engravers.  This event is interesting for its significance of a wider outlook and truer appreciation than once-upon-a-time were characteristic of the national custodians of artistic taste.

            Artists are generally regarded as very irritable folk, whom to ask for the slightest favour would be provoking a refusal.  We believe that this is one of those many popular delusions which the unknowing public love to cherish, under the mistaken impression that nobody can be a genius and retain a disposition of amiability.  So far as Mr. Dicksee is concerned, the popular generalisation is certainly quite inapplicable, for he is never so happy as when he is able to give some aid—Be it even the most elementary suggestion—to his fellow-artists of less experience.  Indeed, any ambitious young etcher who desires advice in an art that is not mastered in a day is sure of receiving from Mr. Dicksee assistance that is all the more stimulating because gladly given.  It is Mr. Dicksee’s willingness in this respect, that has enabled him to achieve signal popularity at the City of London School, where he occupies the congenial position of Art Master.

It is characteristic of our subject that he would not rest content unless he could live in a house of his own designing.  Such is the case with the house which he occupies on the borders of Hampstead Heath, within a stone’s throw of Finchley Road, and in the heart of a territory sacred to the Muses. Mr. Dicksee’s house was built some eight or nine years ago and reveals distinct traces of the Voysey influence.  Architecturally it is a triangular structure : aesthetically it is beautifully situated and the ideal home of an artist.

Mr. Herbert Dicksee at work in his studio
(MH - note Cinderella behind HD)

     The Studio


    Like many English artists, Mr. Dicksee has been a member of the Langham Sketching Club.  He attended its weekly meetings regularly for about twelve years, but as time went on he found that after a hard day’s work the extra two hours drawing in a hot room told upon him, and left him rather fatigued the following morning.  In another direction he has evinced an esprit de corps, as he was a member for eleven years of the Artists’ Volunteer Corps. The colonel under whose command he served was the late Lord Leighton, the major being the late Mr. Val Prinsep.  Mr. Dicksee, however, had no military ambition, and did not attain to any higher rank than that of a modest lance-corporal.  Mr. Dicksee’s achievements in his own artistic domain are already great for a man in the early forties, and his past performances give promise of yet more valuable and enduring work.

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