For a significant part of his career, John Rogers Herbert, R.A. (1810-1890) was considered one of the most important artists of his time. His reputation increased throughout the first half of the nineteenth century; his precise technique, his sympathetic interpretation of the Nazarene style and strong narrative ability was admired by press and public alike. His career was assured when he found himself among the artists favored with fresco commissions at the New Palace of Westminster. However, his popularity faded in the second half of the nineteenth century, as his high ideals about the moral purpose of art became outdated, and more aesthetic considerations dominated the art scene. Toward the end of his life he was going blind, but that did not prevent him from showing many pictures at the Royal Academy summer exhibitions - an act of defiance that left his colleagues and the public slightly bewildered. Therefore, it was no surprise that upon his death he was quickly forgotten. No posthumous biography was written; no tribute exhibitions were held. Even his obituaries in the major papers had a slightly satirical tone; The Magazine of Art bluntly stating that his death 'cannot be said to be an event of any artistic significance or importance'.
Mary Magdalen (1859) - The Maas Gallery
The object of my research is to re-establish John Rogers Herbert into the story of Victorian painting; to examine the contribution he made during his 60 year career, and how his Catholicism influenced his work. I also intend to explore his philosophy of art, which in many ways was typical of a mid-Victorian, but was not simply a cultural phenomenon. Herbert believed deeply in the moral and divine purpose of art as a communicator of universal truths. His view was challenged as the world changed around him, but he never questioned it, and continued to exhort his fellow artists to higher purposes, even when they had all but ceased to listen.
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