Henry Hillingford Parker was an accomplished British landscape painter working predominantly in oils.
Capturing nature accurately in all its tangled complexity is a herculean task. John Constable studied clouds obsessively to understand their ever-changing appearance. He’d collect ‘bits’ of the landscape - lopped off post tops, jars of sand, various soil types, in an effort to render them without fault. By his own omission, he never got there, no-one can. But the artistry is in the journey, the application of one’s best intentions to describe a view.
Henry Hillingford Parker was cut from the same cloth, he undoubtedly admired Constable while training at the Royal Academy and worked tirelessly to hone his technique. His early landscapes are a window through which we too can marvel at the grandeur of the natural world.
A silent mill rests alongside a shimmering water. The foliage mirrored with a skilful blur. Every nuance is pondered over, the reeds lean, partially illuminated. A moored punt creates a carefully considered shadow.
His haunts were primarily in the South of England - Kent, Surrey and particularly the Thames. Living in London, he’d hop on a train to explore the picturesque environs of a region he treasured. Haymaking and harvest scenes were a popular inclusion. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he didn’t shy away from figures.
Towards the end of the 19th century, when impressionism had taken hold in France and beyond, numerous British artists (and indeed their patrons) began to question what ‘reality’ actually looked like. Was it right to capture a view with precision, when that involved working predominantly within a studio from sketches? Or should an artist immerse themselves completely in the moment and paint ‘en plein air’ to capture the fleeting effects of light?
From around 1900, Parker’s style adapted, becoming looser, more impressionistic. Whether he opted to paint entirely outdoors is unknown but his later works certainly exhibit that quality. There’s a palpable sense of movement - clouds pass overhead, cattle amble wearily up rugged hillsides.
The fact Parker could adapt to the changing times while retaining his integrity is an achievement in itself. He remains one of Britain’s finest landscape painters and deserves his place alongside contemporaries such as Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923).
Oxford University, Williamson Art Gallery, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Hartlepool Museum, Haworth Art Gallery, Auckland Museum, Melbourne Gallery.
Born in St Pancras, London to Thomas and Lucy Parker. Christened Henry Deacon Hillier Parker.
Enrolled at St Martins School of Art.
Enrolled at Royal Academy Schools.
Married Charlotte Eliza Wilson.
Died in London.