In 1912, looking back over Arthur Hacker's career, Alfred Lys Baldry declared that as a portrait painter, he was 'a man of very definite mark' with 'a strong appreciation of character' and 'a sense of elegant arrangement'.1 'Sympathy and reticence' emanating from his portraits, characterised all his painting. This important strand of Hacker's work began in the late 1880s.2 In a decade which saw Whistler, following his bankruptcy, turning towards the genre, and Sargent setting up his studio in London, Hacker at first established his reputation as a rural naturalist painter with works such as The Cradle Song, 1886, (Private Collection) shown at the first New English Art Club exhibition in 1886.3 Thereafter he broadened his range, with Pelagia and Philammon, 1887, purchased for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and achieved a notable success with a Biblical epic, By the Waters of Babylon, 1888 (Rochdale Art Gallery).4 It was at this point that his first portraits began to appear and in 1889 he dispatched the ambitious Mrs RE Hoare, to the Grosvenor Gallery. Although echoes of Sargent may be apparent, such influences should not obscure the general mood of the period when, after years of relative neglect, portraiture regained its significance in aesthetic terms. Artists such as John Everett Millais, George Frederick Watts, and William Blake Richmond, known for history, medieval romance and mythological painting, suddenly achieved popularity as portrait painters. In 1888 for instance, Richmond's Mrs Ernest Moon (fig 1) was the first plate in the first publication of Royal Academy Pictures. Mrs Moon, like Mrs Hoare, confidently addresses the spectator, anticipating the 'new' woman who was to emerge in the nineties.
While older painters had a stake in the revival, Hacker's main competitors were young artists of his own generation such as James Jebusa Shannon and William Llewellyn, showing alongside him.5 With three large portraits on display, it was clear to many reviewers that Shannon was hoping to dominate the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition. Mrs Tower, 1889 which some regarded as his best work, hanging close to the present canvas, provided critics with an obvious comparison. Opinions were divided. Although there were some reservations about the 'angular' treatment of Mrs Hoare's wrists - a recollection of Sargent's controversial Misses Vickers - they were satisfied that the painter had attained 'singularity'.6 Indeed the normally ungenerous Athenaeum praised the portrait for its subtlety of colour, noting that 'it is greyer... and warmer and sweeter than the neighbouring Shannon.'7
Mrs Hoare was the wife of a scion of the Hoare banking dynasty - her illustrious name stretches back to the seventeenth century when Hoare's bank was first established.8 In the late nineteenth century when private banks were more common than today, this was one of the leading names in the profession and in 1898, W. Douro Hoare was appointed a director of the Bank of England, on a board chaired by John Baring, second Baron Revelstoke.9
Despite the success of Mrs RE Hoare, the ever-versatile Hacker would not be type-cast. He returned to the Bible with Christ and the Magdalen (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) in 1891, and the following year his reputation was assured with the purchase of The Annunciation, 1892 (Tate Britain) by the Chantrey Bequest. Other major Academy-pieces went to Bradford and Leeds art galleries during the nineties, and he was represented in major international exhibitions.10 At the same time Hacker developed a portrait practice which sustained him into the early years of the century when he abandoned semi-Symbolist and religious works for evocative London street scenes.11 As a founder member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1891, he produced sensitive portrayals of artist friends such as Onslow Ford (1894) and Christobel Cockerell (1900) as well as striking images of 'new' women such as The Hon Mrs Newdigate, 1895, (fig 2) wife of FA Newdigate, Member of Parliament for Nuneaton.12 Starting with Mrs RE Hoare, this cavalcade of striking individuals amply demonstrates the essential truth behind Baldry's admiration for Hacker 'sympathy and reticence'.
We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for providing the above catalogue entry.
1 Alfred Lys Baldry, 'The Paintings of Arthur Hacker RA', The Studio, vol vi, August 1912, p. 182.
2 Hacker was the son of an engraver of sporting prints who grew up in Kentish Town, London. He attended the Royal Academy Schools and the atelier Bonnat in Paris where he shared a studio with Stanhope Forbes. 3 Kenneth McConkey, The New English, A History of the New English Art Club, 2006, RA Publications, p. 31.
4 By the Waters of Babylon was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1888, no. 93.
5 The Saturday Review, 18 May 1889, pp. 603-4 drew these artists into a comparison with the 'black and misty' portraits of Frank Holl. 6 Cosmo Monkhouse, 'The Grosvenor Gallery II', The Academy, 25 May 1889, p. 366. There was no specific allusion to Sargent, but a comparison of the treatment of hands and forearms in the present canvas with those of Sargent's Misses Vickers, 1884 (Sheffield City Art Galleries) is apposite. Sargent's canvas was voted 'worst picture of the year' by readers of the Pall Mall Gazette, when shown at the Royal Academy in 1886.
7 Anon, 'The Grosvenor Gallery, First Notice', The Athenaeum, 11 May 1889, p. 605.
8 Richard Hoare, a Lord Mayor of London, established the private deposit bank in 1672 in Cheapside. In 1690, he moved premises to Fleet Street where the bank remains to this day. The Hoare's family seat was at Stourhead in Wiltshire (now National Trust).
9 David Kynaston, The City of London, vol. 2, The Golden Years, 1890-1914, 1995 (Pimlico ed, 1996), p. 597.
10 Hacker was died unexpectedly at the age of 61 of a heart attack at his doorstep on Cromwell Road, London.
11 He was one of the first artists to paint a cinema interior.
12 For reference to Hacker's portrait of Christobel Cockerell, see Kenneth McConkey, Edwardian Portraits, Images of an Age of Opulence, 1987, (Woodbridge, Antique Collectors Club), pp. 158-9.