Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851) The most distinguished member of an artistic dynasty, Henry Alken was the dominant sporting artist of the early nineteenth century. Henry Alken was born in Golden Square, Soho, London on 12 October 1785, the third son of Samuel Alken, an architect and engraver of Danish origin. Growing up in Bedford Square, he studied under his father, and was apprenticed to the miniaturist John Thomas Barber. During this apprenticeship, he exhibited two portrait miniatures at the Royal Academy of Arts (1801-2), but seems not to have capitalised on his initial exposure. Indeed, little certain is known about the artist during the 1800s. Alken married in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1809, and may have lived there for some years. However, he seems to have mixed with the notorious Meltonian hunting set, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire – and it has been suggested that he lived there, and worked as a horse breeder.
His earliest sporting prints were signed ‘Ben Tally Ho’ from 1813, and under his own name from 1816. At this time, he had returned to London, and was living in the Haymarket, over the shop of Thomas McLean, the print publisher. By the end of the decade, he had settled in Kentish Town. During the 1820s, Alken was at his most skilful and successful, producing many prints and illustrating numerous books, the subjects ranging across comic and serious. Volumes included The National Sports of Great Britain (1821), Real Life in London (1821-22), A Touch at the Fine Arts (1824) and Sporting Scrap Book (1824). And, while his work declined in quality and popularity from the 1830s, he continued to work, and proved a strong influence on such younger artists, as is suggested by his illustrations to R S Surtees’ Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities (1843), which paved the way for John Leech. Alken died in poverty on 7 April 1851 in Kentish Town. His funeral was paid for by one of his sons-in-law. Of his own children, Henry Thomas and Sefferein John became artists, though Henry’s output includes many copies of works by his father. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; and the New York Public Library.