John Frederick Herring Senior was a highly successful British artist of the Victorian Era. Unlike his contemporaries, he wasn't fully dedicated to art, only during the later years of his life. He worked as a coachman and signmaker as well. The artist adopted the Senior signature after his son John Frederck Herring Jr. became a painter and started to attract local attention. His horse paintings were very famous in England, and many of his pictures were reproduced as lithographs.
John Frederick Herring Senior was born in September 1795 in London, in the Blackfriar's neighborhood. Herring had Dutch blood in his family and was the eldest of nine children. His father was Benjamin Herring, and his mother was Sarah Jemima, both Americans searching for better living conditions in Britain. Benjamin Herring's job as an upholsterer and fringe maker was soon shared with the young John Frederick as an assistant.
As a child, Herring was passionate about horses and drawing - interests that continued throughout his life. Born in a working-class family, he started his professional life painting houses and as a signmaker, also working as a coach driver momentarily. His family's education and experience with his father prepared him for any manual work, and he couldn't afford to live solely as an artist for most of his life.
Herring continued living in London until he turned eighteen, when he moved to northern England, in Doncaster. There he was able to witness exciting horseraces, like when the Duke of Hamilton's "William" won the race of St. Leger Stakes. Through the depictions he made related to the event, it's possible to witness his figures' Victorian style, fashion, and vestment choices.
A year later, in 1815, the nineteen-year-old artist Herring married Ann Harris. This decision was made without his father's approval, and the conflict was the motivation for the couple's decision to move to another city. Herring and Ann had five children together: the three boys became artists like their father - John Frederick Jr., Charles, and Benjamin - while Ann and Emma, their two daughters, married painters.
While living in Doncaster, Herring's love for horses led him to work as a coachman. He was employed to paint signs for local inns and made the visual decoration of coaches. His spare time was dedicated to his painting practice, and eventually, he was commissioned to paint horses for these inns. The commissions granted him the nickname: the artist coachman. His art caught the eyes of wealthy patrons who commissioned works with themes of hunting and racehorses.
During his first year in the city, John Herring started working for St. Leger, a traditional horse racing event created in 1776 and continues to this day. On 'Filho da Puta', the Winner of the Great St. Leger at Doncaster, 1815, the viewer already sees the realistic manner used throughout his whole life. He worked painting the St. Leger winner for the next 32 years. 'Mameluke', the Winner of the Derby Stakes at Epsom was the first commissioned work he made for the Derby, another event he worked extensively as a painter.
As soon as 1818, John Frederick Herring was exhibiting, for the first time, at the Royal Academy Show. It is an early manifestation of the profound interest that he took into his practice and how, at the time, he was already a mature painter. Even though Frederick quite never turned into a critically acclaimed circuit artist, he aptly built a patron network that guaranteed constant work.
In 1833, Herring moved back to London, but only after spending three years in Newmarket. It is speculated that for some time, he received the teachings of painter Abraham Cooper. Cooper was specialized in hunting scenes and portraits of the bourgeoisie in nature. These Rococo motifs had a strong influence on British painting and were sought by regular clientele. Through the older painter, Herring got acquainted with patrons, and his popularity progressively grew.
William Taylor Copeland, a member of the parliament and a wealthy businessman, became the artist's patron in a time of financial difficulties. Copeland commissioned some designs for his family's china business called Copeland Spode and supported John Frederick by buying some of his animal scenes as well.
In 1836, as his son John Frederck Herring Jr. was establishing a career as an artist, Herring added Senior to his name to differentiate the two. Herring had the honor to work on behalf of the Duke of Orleans, son of Louis-Phillipe, King of France, creating many beautiful paintings. He also visited Paris in 1840 after the Duke's invitation.
The English painter's production caught the eye of Europe's monarchy, raising his popularity, especially as an animal painter. In 1845, Herring received the honor of having Queen Victoria as his patron, and she continued commissioning work from him for the rest of his career. During the same year, his work was also requested by the Dutchess of Kent to produce animal paintings. Through this affiliation with the high ranks of royalty, the artist was able to dedicate his career entirely to art and have a substantial income.
By the end of Herring's career, he eventually stopped producing paintings of horses, which constituted his most famous and acclaimed work. The painter moved to southeast England, in a rural area of Kent in 1853.
John Herring changed to narrative themes and agricultural landscapes from his usual paintings of hunting and outdoor subjects. Such an intense change must have been influenced by the artist's fascination for his surroundings and the country's calming sensation.
Herring was a gentleman, and through his affluent career, he became a landowner. His later way of life was known in England as a country squire, someone who cherished the daily activities of rural routine. Herring passed away in September 1865, eleven days after completing 70 years of age.
John Frederick Herring Senior was an extremely successful artist throughout his career. He is considered by art historians the most important animal painters of the XIX century, just as Sir Edwin Landseer. Herring's artworks were extremely popular, and many were reproduced as engravings, making his work more accessible to the public through prints.
The British artist exhibited his work for almost fifty years at the prestigious Royal Academy and for 35 years at the British Institution. In 1842, Herring became vice president of the Society of British Artists, where he participated in art exhibits for more than fifteen years.