Hatherell, William (1855-1928)

Hatherell, William (1855-1928)

Gracefully elegant, emotionally effused works define the oeuvre of artist and illustrator William Hatherell. One of the most successful and prominent illustrators of the 19th century, Hatherell’s works became instruments to accompany the orchestrations of the stories and publications they were printed alongside, rather than mere supplements.

Little is known about Hatherell’s early years, although his artistic education was received from the Royal Academy schools. He went on to exhibit within its halls for over 40 years, as well as exhibiting successfully at the New Society of Painters and the Royal Academy of British Artists.

Hatherell is known prominently, however, for his illustrations. He found ready, steady employment with a number of publishing firms such as Cassell’s. He also worked for periodical publications in Britain such as ‘The Graphic,’ as well as for ‘Scribner’s Magazine’ and ‘Century’ magazine in the United States of America.

His elaborately detailed, emotionally evocative works were very popular with publishers. Indeed, over the course of the second half of the 19th century, there was an increasing demand for illustrated works of writers such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy. The influence of the arts and crafts movement to marry literature with beautifully decorous art was spreading to the mass publishers.

With his cunning craft for character, it is easy to see why Hatherell was so popular. He inhibits each figure with emotion. From a bustling crowd on a street to the singular figure of Juliet upon her balcony, pensively pining, Hatherell keeps character the singular thread, woven through all of his works. This is complemented by a discerning use of colour. In the twilight, the figure of Juliet, with her dress bustling in a gentle wind, seems ethereal, fay. It infuses the scene with more excitement, anticipation for Romeo to appear. In the liminal hour past sunset, Hatherell creates a building sense of drama.

Thomas Hardy was so delighted with Hatherell’s illustrations for his tragic work ‘Jude the Obscure’ that he had them framed and hung in his home. He also wrote to Hatherell to thank him and ‘express my sincere admiration.’ It was Hatherell’s ability to transcend the purpose of the illustration as an aid to the writing, and instead breathe new life into the work Hardy recognised: ‘the picture is a tragedy in itself, and I do not remember ever before having an artist who grasped a situation so thoroughly.’

It was Hatherell’s ethos as an artist which brought so much success. He was said to never have seen his work as mere ‘photographic illustration.’ It had to do more than bring realism and reflection, it had to have a ‘feeling for atmosphere.’ He would apparently pose his models for hours in his garden until he had arrived at the message and mood he wanted to convey.

The majority of Hatherell’s career was based in London, however he did travel to and work in Australia for a while. Working on commission from Cassell’s, Hatherell was to illustrate for them their publication ‘Cassell's Picturesque Australasia.’ He was, in every sense, a global artist.

Hatherell’s success saw him initiated as a member into a number of societies. These included the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

It seems that Hatherell’s last large commission was unfortunately unfinished owing to his death in 1928. Frederick Glassock had commissioned Hatherell to complete a series of 10 paintings depicting scenes of Arthurian legends for King Arthur’s Great Halls in Tintagel, Cornwall. Two remaining paintings are signed by Hatherell, continuing his usual effusive colouring and canny sense of character. Whilst unfortunately the commission could not be completed, the paintings are nonetheless displayed proudly, Hatherell’s work celebrated.

Work by Hatherell can also be found in the Tate Gallery in London, as well as in the British Museum.


Born in Westbury on Trym, Britain.


Studied at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.


Became a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.


Became a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.


Became a member of the Langham Sketching Club.


Became a member of the Royal West of England Academy.


Became a member of the American Society of Illustrators.


Held a solo exhibition at the Graves’ Gallery, Pall Mall, London.


Died in London, Britain.

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