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.” 
Though Becker will most likely be remembered for his typically rural and agricultural scenes he also produced many dramatic landscapes. His working style developed from a very polished finished looking piece where close attention was paid to delicate use of line to a bolder more dramatic use of line and tone, culminating in a series of seven lithograph prints of Dutch potato pickers in 1909.
Rural Scenes, though not part of the Dutch series, is evidence of Becker’s fluid use of line and confidence in creating atmosphere even in the absence of colour.
- NATIONAL ART LIBRARY: Information file on Harry Becker
- THE MINORIES, Harry Becker 1865-1928, Colchester, 1974
- THOMPSON, David, Harry Becker, 1865-1928, Ipswich, 1993