attributed to Harry Becker (1865-1928)

attributed to Harry Becker (1865-1928)

Biography

Harry Becker, the son of a German immigrant, was born in Colchester in 1865. His artistic talents were noticeable from a young age, and at 14 he was sent to the Royal Academy of Antwerp for formal training. He finished his education in Paris in the studio of Carolus Duran, a fashionable portrait painter. During his time in Paris Becker was greatly influenced by the Impressionists, a passion which Duran did not share, in particular Edgar Degas whose use of mixed media and emphasis on light on stained canvases interested Becker. However, it was Duran’s formal qualities and theories of tonality, which would dominate Becker’s art for years to come.

From 1886-1894 Becker lived in the Minories in Colchester where he painted watercolour portraits as well as landscapes in both watercolour and oils. In 1894 he moved to London to open his studio where he became well known for his lithographs and dramatic graphic work. In 1902 he married Georgina Waddington, a fellow artist, who gave birth a year later to their daughter, Janet. In 1913 they settled in Suffolk where he would remain till his death in 1928, shunning the commercial art world in favour of painting the rural landscapes and people he so loved. During his lifetime Becker received a number of high profile commissions most notably one in 1908 for a large mural in the central hall for a new Department store owned by Gordon Selfridge. However, the commission was later cancelled due to disagreements between Becker and Selfridge due largely to Becker’s contempt of commercialism.

Becker spent much of his later years living in near poverty, a poverty that is reflected in his use of materials; reusing old canvas and scrapes of paper. Despite this he spent much of his time trying to buy back paintings he had sold earlier in his career…

“I think it is disheartening to give away your picture because then they’re hung on walls and nobody ever looks at them again.” [1]

Statement

Becker often chose to rise early with the farm workers, sketching and painting from life, an element of impressionism he held onto throughout his career. He would even create lithographs out in these rural environments using stones weighing up to half a stone.

Suffolk Meadows is a perfect example of the slow paced life Becker enjoyed painting. The gentle early morning light complements the soft green gold hews, a consideration to tonality, which Duran would have been proud of. Many of his landscapes are flat like those of Kent and Holland, thus making his scenes very immediate, allowing Becker to be economic with his time, capturing the moment as slow as it was, perfectly and precisely.

Despite somewhat abandoning impressionisms to a certain extent in favour of a more gentle approach one might consider Becker one of the driving forces behind British Impressionism and most likely the “greatest artist working in Suffolk this century”. Many of his contemporaries were fans, and both Brangwyn and Sargent owned Becker pieces.

Bibliography

  • NATIONAL ART LIBRARY: Information file on Harry Becker
  • THE MINORIES, Harry Becker 1865-1928, Colchester, 1974
  • THOMPSON, David, Harry Becker, 1865-1928, Ipswich, 1993

Harriet Pratt