Sir Hubert Von Herkomer, 1849 - 1914
Portrait of General William Booth 1829–1912, founder of the Salvation Army
General William Booth
oil on canvas
31 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in.)


This portrait is likely to be a studio Modello Portrait painted by Herkomer. The large full scale portrait of William Booth after Sir Hubert Von Herkomer at the William Booth College.

William Booth, (1829–1912), founder of the Salvation Army, was born at Sneinton, a suburb of Nottingham, on 10 April 1829, one of five children of Samuel Booth (1775–1842), a speculative builder, and his second wife, Mary Moss (b. 1791). He was sent to Biddulph's School, Nottingham, but it failed to turn him into either a gentleman or a scholar; at thirteen, because of family poverty, he was apprenticed to a pawnbroker in a squalid part of Nottingham. Although he proved an able assistant to his employer, he spoke of this experience in later life with bitterness. Soon after his apprenticeship began his father, whose business affairs had gone from bad to worse, died; the family, struggling to make ends meet, moved into a shop. Booth's ‘blighted childhood’, as he always called it, left a powerful impression on his mind.

Booth drifted out of the Church of England, but there was little to suggest any marked change in his religious thinking before his father's death. He seems to have been stirred politically by the oratory of Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor (1796–1855), who visited Nottingham during the election of 1842. Deeply affected by the daily spectacle of ragged children crying for bread in the streets, Booth ranged himself on the side of the Chartists. A frequent attendant at Nottingham's Wesley Chapel, he was also coming under the sway of Methodism; in 1844, with his conscience tortured by a piece of sharp practice in which he had overreached some of his fellow assistants at the pawnbroker's shop, he made public confession of his sin and underwent conversion. Had it not been for his conscience, and the effect of confession, he might have become a radical. As it was, religion made him, from a political point of view, a die-hard conservative.

The impressionable teenager came under the spellbinding oratory of the American Methodist James Caughey, who visited Nottingham in 1846. Booth joined a group of revivalists who conducted religious services in the streets of the city. He was then seventeen and distinguished by his height, pale face, black hair, and eloquence. In 1849 he moved to London in search of better paid work, but failing to find it he was obliged to go as assistant to a pawnbroker in Walworth. He took at this time several religious vows, which reveal an uncompromising spiritual intention, and almost starved himself in order to send money back to his mother and sisters. He devoted his leisure to religion and began to attract the attention of local Methodists, one of whom, E. J. Rabbits, a rich boot manufacturer, persuaded him to become a lay preacher. It was this boot manufacturer who introduced him into the family of a carriage builder living in Clapham, where he met the woman who was so powerfully to influence his subsequent career.

Catherine Mumford (1829–1890) [see Booth, Catherine], the daughter of the carriage builder, was an invalid who spent most of her time on a sofa. She had a cultivated mind to a degree unusual among people in suburban circles: while she admired Booth's character, she deplored his lack of culture. A child of the dissenting chapel, her religion was respectable, if not conventional. She criticized Booth's sermons, gave him devotional books, and tried to steady his religious ardour. He admitted his lack of learning, but not even her persuasions could tame his ‘love for souls’, which was the master passion of his life. In return, Booth gave her a wider outlook and gradually weaned her mind from its subservience to convention: the suburban bluestocking took fire from the provincial ignoramus. When Booth became an itinerant Methodist preacher in 1852 he consulted her about his sermons, sent her his clothes for mending, and exhorted her to approve of revivalist methods. They married on 16 June 1855. All of their children, three sons and four daughters, the eldest of whom was the preacher Catherine Booth-Clibborn (1858–1955), were caught in the whirl of evangelicalism.

By the time of his marriage Booth had established something of a reputation as a travelling preacher of Methodism, but his unorthodox practices and violent rhetoric in the pulpit had made him enemies. At the end of nine years in the ministry, rather than submit to the authority of his church, he broke with Methodism and launched out as an independent revivalist. His wife joined in this work, and it was at her suggestion that he went to London in 1865 and started the Christian Mission in Whitechapel. It was largely by accident that the institution changed its name to the Salvation Army. The phrase ‘a volunteer army’ as a description for the mission came under discussion in 1878, and, under pressure from his son (William) Bramwell Booth (1856–1929), William Booth altered it in favour of ‘a salvation army’. The new name, complete with the definite article, appeared for the first time in the Christian Mission Magazine for September 1878.

The change of name was fortuitous, for as a result of it came the military titles and uniforms that transformed what was just another parochial city mission into a worldwide engine of revivalism. Booth himself initially resisted the army trappings, but an institution which soon became identified with authority, regulation, and family control was well suited to his autocratic temperament. A secret of the movement's success was the use of working-class officers to invade working-class districts. This practice, which had been used by other London charities, most notably the Ranyard Mission, proved highly effective for the Salvation Army. By the end of the nineteenth century there were 100,000 soldiers in Britain, mostly in urban areas. As the movement spread abroad, Booth followed the army flag—including tours of the United States in 1886 and India in 1892—and received the hospitality of kings and ambassadors.

Booth always held that you cannot make a man clean by washing his shirt, and his social work was largely an excuse for converting souls. (In a time when medicine could do so little for the body, the needs of the soul demanded more attention.) He had an unusual degree of social pity and admitted the influence of the environment on individual cases of distress, but he genuinely believed that eternal punishment was the fate of all those who died without conversion. A stern millenarian, his aim was to convert the masses. He did so with little reference to religious doctrine, of which he was himself largely ignorant: his was a brash, Bible-based, open-air Christianity, suited to the realities of slum life. Under the influence of his wife the Salvation Army adopted a non-sacramental form of worship. By banning the eucharist Booth may have alienated the orthodox, but he attracted the multitude.

Booth entertained an almost savage prejudice against science and philosophy. In everything intellectual he was an obscurantist of the most pronounced type, and in everything religious a ‘Hebraist’ of uncompromising narrowness. He condemned cricket and football as sharply as card-playing and horse-racing. Further, there was something of the casuist in his nature which enabled him, with no shock to his conscience, to conciliate mammon in the interest of his philanthropy. He had warm friends among bookmakers, commercial millionaires, and the aristocracy. Once he made Cecil Rhodes kneel down and pray with him in a railway carriage. He took tea with Gladstone at Hawarden in 1896 and had an interview with Edward VII, whom he greatly admired, in 1904. The king asked what the churches now thought of him: he replied with a dour humour, ‘Sir, they imitate me’ (Begbie, 1.113).

Booth was the champion of the degraded poor of the great cities and his work illustrated that the religious instincts of the public were not much changed since Wesley's day. He beat his showman's drum in what he believed to be God's service. As a consequence he became the target of ridicule, while some of the army's more exuberant practices, particularly the marches and band playing, became a cause of rioting. Assaults on Salvationists were common and several were ‘promoted to Glory’ by stones or beatings. It was partly because of his wife's influence that the army's rescue work among prostitutes was undertaken solely by women and that the movement encouraged a degree of female equality that was unusual among religious organizations of the day. Characteristically Booth hung back from a crusade for sexual purity which his son Bramwell persuaded William T. Stead (1849–1912) to undertake in the Pall Mall Gazette. In spite of all his platform outspokenness, he was a timorous administrator. Disdainful of balance sheets, he used his authority chiefly to safeguard the army's spiritual activities. Bramwell was the real organizer: Booth called him his Melanchthon.

Deeper acquaintance with the distresses of the urban poor led Booth to become a social reformer. In 1890 he published In Darkest England and the Way Out, a classic in the literature of poverty. With its proposals for the relief of unemployment and homelessness, it contained more practical advice than the earlier surveys of urban deprivation carried out by Henry Mayhew (1812–1887) or the Revd Andrew Mearns (1837–1925). Though written largely by Stead, it was full of Booth's inventive ideas, including city colonies, co-operative farms, the poor man's lawyer, and an emigration scheme, complete with an emigration bureau. It created a sensation, contributing to a wider knowledge of social ills and reminding the churches of their social responsibilities.

Though dismissed by intellectuals and attacked by T. H. Huxley (1825–1895), Booth received liberal financial support from the British public for many of his schemes. What distinguished him as a social reformer was a willingness to cope from day to day with an awesome level of endemic disease, unemployment, and other social ills, which were then less well understood. As he put it, he had nothing against utopianism, collectivist or individualist, but ‘here in our Shelters last night were a thousand hungry, workless people. … It is in the meantime that the people must be fed, that their life's work must be done or left undone forever’ (Booth, 79–80).

It is worth noting that Booth, despite his vehemence and striking physical presence, was of a singularly delicate constitution. He had a physical horror of dirt, even of shabbiness, and from his youth was noticeable for a meticulous attention to personal cleanliness. Noxious smells made him ill. The sight of suffering children brought tears to his eyes: it was this extreme sensitivity to suffering which made him so effective in unveiling society's darker corners. He saw sharply what others scarcely noticed at all, and he felt as an outrage what others considered to be natural. William James, the psychologist, cites Booth as an authority for the doctrine ‘that the first vital step in saving outcasts consists in making them feel that some decent human being cares enough for them to take an interest in the question whether they are to rise or sink’ (W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, new edn, 1985, 203).

Restless, harsh, and with a gift for self-advertisement Booth had the temperament of a prophet, and like other prophets he had a tendency to scowl and to spend other people's money. Booth himself described his explosive temper as ‘Booth blood’. Family secessions and his wife's sufferings, which ended with her death from cancer in 1890, clouded his later life. Though frail in old age and suffering from blindness, he became widely venerated in Britain as a patriarch. He died on 20 August 1912, after an operation for cataract, at his home Rookstone, Lancaster Avenue, Hadley Wood, Middlesex. Some 35,000 people attended Booth's memorial service at Olympia, and he was buried on 29 August next to his wife in Abney Park cemetery, Stamford Hill, London. (William) Bramwell Booth succeeded his father as general; Evangeline Cory Booth, his sister, organized the army in Canada before taking up the post of national commander for the United States in 1904.

If he did not leave ‘Darkest England’ much lighter than he found it, General Booth probably changed as many lives for the better as any philanthropist of his day. A great propagandist, he inspired an organization with worldwide ramifications. Unlike most Victorian charities, the Salvation Army—godly, uniformed, and family centred—remains recognizably the institution of its founder.

Frank Prochaska DNB

Artist biography

Herkomer, Sir Hubert von (1849–1914), painter and illustrator, was born on 26 May 1849 in Waal, Bavaria, the only child of Lorenz Herkomer (1825–1888), a builder and woodcarver, and his wife, Josephine Niggl (1826–1879), born in the nearby village of Denklingen, Bavaria, who was a gifted pianist and music teacher. The Herkomers were of peasant stock, the family having for generations practised the craft skills of woodcarving and weaving. Lorenz Herkomer, accompanied by his wife and the infant Hubert, emigrated to America in 1851, joining other relatives in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1857 they returned to Europe, and settled in Southampton, England.

The young Herkomer had only six months of formal schooling because of childhood illnesses. He received his early art instruction from his father and in 1863 was enrolled at the Southampton School of Art, where he studied for two years. The experience embittered him: he often criticized the art teaching methods of the day later in life. After briefly attending the Munich Academy in 1865, he studied at the Department of Science and Art, South Kensington, in London for two summer terms, in 1866 and 1867. With the encouragement of his friend and fellow South Kensington student Luke Fildes, Herkomer took up black and white illustration. In 1868 his illustrations to poems and short stories began to appear in a number of popular periodicals such as Good Words for the YoungFun, the Sunday MagazineThe Quiver, and the Cornhill Magazine, and from 1870 in The Graphic, a weekly founded the year before by William Luson Thomas. Herkomer's Graphic engravings, which often depicted scenes of poverty and hardship, were collected by Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh admired Herkomer's work and mentioned him often in his letters; the subject matter and expressive style of his engravings influenced the Dutch painter's own work.

Herkomer's paintings were exhibited annually at the Royal Academy, London, from 1869. In 1873 he exhibited his first major oil painting, a Bavarian peasant subject entitled After the Toil of the Day (exh. RA, 1873; priv. coll., Wales). It was painted in Germany, where, from 1871, he usually resided during the summer months. In 1885 in Landsberg am Lech (4 miles from his birthplace, Waal), he completed the Mutterturm, a tower house built in memory of his mother, which became his summer home. Other Bavarian peasant paintings, which were made primarily for the English market, include At Death's Door (exh. RA, 1876; priv. coll., Wales), Der Bittgang: Peasants Praying for a Successful Harvest (exh. RA, 1877; Parc Howard Museum, Llanelli), and Light, Life, and Melody (exh. Grosvenor Gallery, 1879; priv. coll., Wales). Some of these works reveal the influence of contemporary German realism, particularly that of Wilhelm Leibl on the one hand, and on the other, the more delicate idealism of the English painter Frederick Walker, whom Herkomer ardently admired: he fluctuated between these two stylistic extremes for most of his career.

In 1875 Herkomer exhibited The Last Muster: Sunday in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea (exh. RA, 1875; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), based on his Graphic engraving (18 February 1871, 152) Sunday at Chelsea Hospital. Its depiction of a group of Chelsea pensioners seated during a service in the Chelsea Hospital chapel was greatly admired for its bold realism and poignant central motif—an old soldier reaching for the pulse of his comrade, who has died beside him. In 1878 the painting was shown at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where Herkomer was awarded a medal of honour. The phenomenal success of The Last Muster, which was frequently shown at national and international exhibitions over the next forty years, assured the artist lasting fame during his lifetime.

Herkomer painted several important works that revealed his sympathy for the impoverished or disadvantaged, a trait fostered in part by his own humble origins. These includedEventide: a Scene in Westminster Union (exh. RA, 1878; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), which showed elderly women in a workhouse; Pressing to the West: a Scene in Castle Garden, New York (exh. RA, 1884; Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig), a depiction of poverty-stricken immigrants, inspired by a visit to America in 1883; Hard Times, 1885 (exh. RA, 1885; Manchester City Galleries), which showed an unemployed labourer and his family resting by a road; and On Strike (exh. RA, 1891; RA), Herkomer's diploma picture on election to full membership of the Royal Academy.

In 1873 Herkomer settled with his parents in the village of Bushey, Hertfordshire, partly because his first patron, Clarence Fry—who owned many of the artist's early watercolours and was the original owner of The Last Muster—resided in nearby Watford. On 30 December that year Herkomer married Anna Weise, the German-born daughter of a Berlin lawyer; they had two children, Siegfried and Elsa. The couple lived intermittently apart from 1877, and after his wife's death in 1883 Herkomer married, on 14 August 1884, a Welsh nurse, Lulu Griffiths (b. 1849), who had been a member of his household since 1874. He was devastated by her sudden death a year later. On 3 August 1888 the artist married a third time in Landsberg am Lech; because his bride, Margaret Griffiths (1857–1934), was his sister-in-law, Herkomer had to renounce his British citizenship, its being illegal in England at that time to marry a deceased wife's sister (he was renaturalized as a British citizen in 1897). The couple had two children, Lawrence and Gwendydd.

During the 1880s Herkomer painted several large landscapes in north Wales in the company of his lifelong friend and patron, the Welsh landowner and painter Charles William Mansel Lewis. These works included Homeward (exh. RA, 1882; Altes Rathaus, Landsberg am Lech, Germany) and Found (exh. RA, 1885; Tate collection), which was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest. Although he continued to exhibit subject pictures the focus of his art after 1881 was portraiture. Herkomer regarded his portraits as historical records and painted many of the most important and accomplished citizens of his day, fulfilling commissions in Britain, America, and Germany. Among his noteworthy portraits are John Ruskin (1879; exh. Grosvenor Gallery, 1881; NPG); Archibald Forbes (exh. RA, 1882; Kunsthalle, Hamburg); Miss Katherine Grant (‘The Lady in White’; exh. RA, 1885; priv. coll.); Henry Hobson Richardson (1886; priv. coll., Boston, Massachusetts); and Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria (1896; exh. RA, 1899; Neue Pinakotek, Munich). Herkomer also produced several very large group portraits including his last work, The Managers and Directors of the Firm Friedrich Krupp, Essen, Germany (exh. RA, 1914; Villa Hügel, Essen).

Like some other portrait painters of his generation, Herkomer made a great deal of money, earning over £250,000 from portraiture alone. He was able to work with remarkable speed and enjoyed talking to his sitters to animate their expressions. He made preliminary sketches to set the pose and used photographs on occasion. The portraits he painted early in his career favoured a murky palette, tonal subtlety, and non-descriptive backgrounds, similar to the realist trends he admired in the Munich and Paris schools. For his later portraits he employed a freer brushstroke and lighter colours.

Herkomer's earnings from portraiture enabled him to build Lululaund, his huge castle-like residence at 43 Melbourne Road in Bushey, which was named in memory of his deceased second wife. This arts and crafts house, begun in 1856, was built as a homage to the traditional skills of his Bavarian forebears, and featured an exterior design by the celebrated American architect Henry Hobson Richardson; the artist and his family took up residence in 1894. The house, the only Richardson design in the United Kingdom, was demolished in 1939 in a wave of anti-German sentiment. The village of Bushey inspired several of the artist's later subject pictures such as The First Born (exh. RA, 1887; Forbes Magazine Collection, London) and Our Village (1889; exh. RA, 1890; Aberdeen Art Gallery).

Despite his childhood illnesses, Herkomer grew into a sturdy adult of medium height and slim athletic build, who enjoyed bicycling and mountain hiking. He ate little meat and neither drank alcohol nor smoked, abstemious habits he had learned from his father. Until 1890 (after which he remained clean shaven) his face was covered in a thick black beard. His piercing eyes and humourless demeanour produced a rather sinister appearance. Herkomer's wide-ranging interests, energy, and capacity for work were prodigious. He lectured tirelessly on numerous social issues and art-related topics, and he succeeded John Ruskin (at Ruskin's suggestion) as the Slade professor of art at Oxford University, a position he held from 1885 to 1894. The Herkomer Art School, founded by him in Bushey in 1883 (closed 1904), taught students from countries as far flung as Sweden, South Africa, America, and Australia. He was knighted in 1907.

Herkomer was also the author of several books, and wrote his two-volume memoir, The Herkomers (1910–11), with the encouragement of his friend Thomas Hardy. Herkomer also wrote and composed the music for the ‘pictorial-music-plays’ he performed at his private theatre in Bushey. His innovative theatre sets and lighting methods influenced the theatrical concepts of Edward Gordon Craig, who acknowledged his debt to Herkomer's ideas.

Herkomer was also an early film-maker, who pioneered the technology of this new art form in Great Britain: he acted in, and directed, several films which were released commercially in 1913 and 1914. Additionally, he experimented with printmaking techniques and enamelling, though he gave up the latter in 1901, after he destroyed his enamel portrait of Wilhelm II because the German emperor expressed dissatisfaction with it.

Herkomer was active in the affairs of the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours; his reputation was also secure in Germany, where he energetically exhibited and executed portrait commissions. His sponsoring of an automobile race in Bavaria, the Herkmerkonkurrenz (from 1905 to 1907), brought him further recognition and endorsed his fascination with the possibilities of modern technical inventions.

In the last years of his life, Herkomer was plagued by stomach ulcers and other serious illnesses, and in 1912 he survived critical stomach surgery. He died suddenly on 31 March 1914 at Matford, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, where his family had taken him for a seaside cure. He was buried in Bushey parish churchyard on 4 April.

Herkomer's enthusiasm for all he undertook and his desire to impart the knowledge he acquired in the process rendered him a more sympathetic personality than his contemporaries could (or wanted to) appreciate. Unlike his fellow portraitists and former colleagues at The Graphic magazine, Luke Fildes and Frank Holl, whose commitment to social realism ended in the 1870s, Herkomer never completely abandoned the social recording that had shaped his early career: there is no question that On Strike is his most important work of the 1890s, despite the huge demand for his portraits. While, for example, his contemporary John Everett Millais painted portraits selectively, Herkomer took on a prodigious workload. As a result, the quality varied greatly and often depended on the artist's rapport (or lack of it) with his sitters. After the turn of the century, John Singer Sargent's bravura portraits began to dominate the academy, and Herkomer's more conservative style came to be seen as increasingly out of date.

Lee MacCormick Edwards   DNB