Henry William Lowe Hurst, RBA RI VPRMS ROI (1865-1938), known as Hal Hurst
Hal Hurst rose to fame as an illustrator on both sides of the Atlantic early in his career, before he turned to painting and particularly portraiture, as well as genre scenes. Maintaining a versatility of approach and medium, he worked in oil, watercolour and etching, and on a variety of scale, from life size to miniature. He helped found the Royal Society of Miniature Painters and served as its first Vice-President. Hal Hurst was born in London on 26 August 1865, the eldest son of Henry Hurst, the African traveller and publisher of the firm of Hurst & Blackett. He was educated at St Paul’s School, and implies in his entry in Who Was Who that his earliest art education was with ‘Friedlanders’ and the ‘Army and Navy Tutor, the Rev Robert Palmer’. He began his career in 1888, at the age of 23, when he visited Ireland to record the mass evictions of struggling tenant farmers in the wake of the potato famine.
On the publication of the resulting drawings, he received an invitation from the Philadelphia Press to join its staff ‘at any price’. However, he soon moved from Philadelphia to New York, where he worked for several newspapers. While there, he may have studied at the Art Students League, and certainly absorbed the influence of the Charles Dana Gibson, the most famous American illustrator of his generation.
On his return to Europe, Hurst spent seven months studying in Paris, at the Académie Julian, and in the studios of Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret and Benjamin Constant. Back in London, in the 1890s, he contributed to many of the leading periodicals, and illustrated books, beginning with G A Henty’s Through the Sikh War (1890).
In 1893, Hurst married Florence (née Beard), and together they would have one son, Hal, and two daughters, Nora and Yvonne. A life-size portrait of his wife, shown as his first contribution to the Royal Academy in 1896, signalled his turn towards painting, and to portraiture in particular. In the same year, he helped his friend, Alyn Williams, found the Society of Miniature Painters, and became its first Vice-President, a position that he would hold until 1913. During Hurst’s tenure, King Edward VII granted the society a Royal Charter in 1904, while at the end of his tenure he was made an honorary member. In the late 1890s, he was also elected to the Royal Society of British Artists (1896), the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1898) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils (1900). He held an early solo show at the Modern Gallery, Bond Street, in 1899, and contributed to the Exposition Universelle, in Paris a year later. In the early 1900s, he shared a studio with Alyn Williams at 23a South Audley Street, Mayfair, and held ‘Private Classes for Ladies in Oil and Water-Colour Portrait Painting and Black-and-White for Reproduction’.
Hurst lived at various addresses in London for most of his career, and died on 23 December 1938.