Arthur Hacker introduced a strong element of French academic realism into British exhibitions of the late nineteenth century, through scenes of historical and religious genre and also portraits. In the first decade of the twentieth century, he changed his approach to produce atmospheric landscapes and townscapes in a Post-Impressionist style. Occasionally, he also painted exquisite still life compositions focussing on flowers. Arthur Hacker was born at 9 Rochester Road, Camden Town, London, on 25 September 1858, the second son of the line engraver, Edward Hacker, and his wife, Sophia (née Sidney). Studying at the Royal Academy Schools between 1876 and 1880, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1878, and would then do so regularly. In 1880, he went to Paris, and spent a year in the atelier of the academic portrait painter, Léon Bonnat, alongside Stanhope Forbes, among others.
Having absorbed the realism and the plein-air practice of French painting, he embarked on a tour of Spain, Morocco and Algeria, to research classical and religious subjects.
Soon after his return to England, Hacker helped found the progressive New English Art Club in 1886, though he established himself as a painter in the French academic manner. Notable successes at the time included Pelagia and Philammon (Walker, Liverpool) and By the Waters of Babylon (Rochdale), both shown at the Grosvenor Gallery (in 1887 and 1888). In 1889, he won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle, Paris. Becoming equally well known as a society portrait painter, he was a founder member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1891. Three years later, in 1894, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1900, he won another medal at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, but this time a silver. He also exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils, the British Institution and the New Gallery, and also in the provinces.
In 1898, Hacker moved from South Hampstead to Old Cavendish Street, just north of Oxford Street. Four years later, at the height of his success, he commissioned the young architect, Maxwell Ayrton, to design Hall Ingle, a country house at Heath End, Checkendon, Oxfordshire. Hacker decorated the house himself, and also painted a portrait of Ayrton’s wife, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902. In 1907, he married the miniature painter, Lilian Price, and they made their London home at 178 Cromwell Road, South Kensington. Soon after, he began to change his approach, producing atmospheric London street scenes and pastoral landscapes in a Post-Impressionist style. He was elected a full Royal Academician in 1910 and a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1918. He died at home on 12 November 1919.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including Bromley Central Library; and the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool).
Further reading: Simon Reynolds, ‘Hacker, Arthur (1858–1919)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 24, pages 390-391