An attention to detail, married with an artistic zeal keen to express the tenets of life and particularly of nature, defines the work of Henry Robert Robertson. A skilled hand in both painting and etching, Robertson would cultivate a successful career for himself in late 19th- and early 20th-century London.
Robertson grew up in Windsor, and although little is known about his arts education, he began to exhibit in London from the early 1860s. Across all his works is woven a deep appreciation for nature. Robertson was keen on painting genre scenes of country life. An old woman working hard to balance a log as she rips a saw through the bark, a child lugging a cart, faithful canine companion in tow. Figures in loose, simple garbs act as the focus of attention amidst scenes of realist landscapes. Robertson was praised for his ‘truthful’ hand, his ‘qualities of expression.’ The gleaming coats of shire horses catch the eye and offer a bold difference to a wan, autumn sky. The turgid mud ploughed with deep grooves looks slick enough to splash dirt from the canvas. Robertson’s colouring was especially praised.
His etchings were no less successful than his paintings. Through careful lines carved into a metal sheet, which was then printed in ink on paper, Robertson was able to evoke the same levels of realism and spirited feeling. The reflection of a gondola is rippled and dappled with the movement of the water. The rustle, bustle of leaves is picked out in exquisite detail against a lusciously fluffy-clouded sky. When exhibited, the quality of Robertson’s works ‘far surpassed’ his competitors.
Robertson’s most celebrated etchings formed part of a publication printed by him titled ‘Life on the Upper Thames.’ Perhaps his childhood in Windsor had left a formative impression on him and ignited a lifelong fascination with river life. Whatever the case, a detailed examination of everyday life on the Thames is complimented with beautifully rendered images. A man rests languidly against a lock. A barge girl takes charge of her boat with confident zeal. From human life to amphibious life, Robertson shows great attention to detail and a passion for his subject.
Robertson would also publish a book titled ‘The Art of Etching,’ intended as a straightforward, beginners guide to the craft. As well as his own publications, his work would also feature in magazines such as ‘The English Illustrated Magazine,’ in which other prominent illustrators, such as Louis Wain (1860-1939), had contributed work.
Robertson’s works were successfully exhibited at the Royal Academy for a number of years, as well as other provincial exhibitions, such as in Liverpool. He was also a member of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. Indeed, alongside his works of nature, Robertson also exhibited miniatures successfully. These works were also praised for their detail. From the minuscule to great studies of the life and ecosystem of England’s most famous river, Robertson found inspiration.
Today, a number of his works reside in museums in Sheffield, Colchester, and Ipswich.
Born in Windsor, Britain.
Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.
Book ‘Life on the Upper Thames’ published.
Married Lucy Turner.
Died in London, Britain.