Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851) was chiefly an English painter and engraver mostly known as an imitator and illustrator of scenes of coaching and subjects related to sports
Henry Alken’s Life and Family
Henry Alken was born in Soho, London on October 1785 to an artist father Samuel Alken as his third son. His two brothers George and John Seffrien John were also artist like his father. His third brother Martin chose a different path for himself.
Alken family was basically of Danish origin and their present heir believed that their former name was Seffrien and also that their ancestors were connected to Court at Copenhagen but due to some political disturbances, they were forced to settle in the different country and chose a different name. They attached “Alken” to themselves which is the name of the village in the Southwest of Aarhus in North Jutland comprising of few farmhouses. They arrived in Suffolk in England to settle but later moved to London.
Samuel Alken was a great painter and usually painted in watercolors but his artwork didn’t bring him in the preview of people.His three sons inherited his artistic gifts. George, the elder son possessed the substantial ability and second son John Seffrien was an artist of moderate ability.
They both shared a studio at Edware Road, New Road and at Great Marlow for some years. Henry also occasionally worked at his brother’s studio in Southampton Row. The fourth son Martin moved to America to get involved in some business and finally landed becoming a mill owner in the Eastern States. Samuel Alken also had a daughter Lydia who was blind and stayed at Childrey and died at 87 years.
Henry Alken’s Work and Career
Henry started studying under his father initially and then under John Thomas Barber Beaumont, a miniature painter. In 1801, a portrait of Miss Gubbins made by Alken was sent to the Royal Academy Exhibition. Before abandoning miniature painting and choosing illustration and painting as his career, he exhibited another miniature at the Royal Academy.
In his early career, he painted “Ben Tally-O” based on sporting subjects. He married Maria Gordon on October 1809 in Ipswich. His first son was being baptized a year later on 22 August. He then was the father to five children’s out of which two also became an artist. From the year 1816, Alken started to paint a never-ending stream of paintings, engravings, and drawings related to every field and many other activities of sports. He also colored his soft ground etching with his hands.
At age of 26 Alken with his family started living over a shop owned by a publisher Thomas Mclean of the Repository of Wit and Humor. Alken was paid the daily wage of $30 by him which was considered to be very good income at that time. Alken had made plated that pictured hunting, racing, coaching, and steeplechasing in London 1821 for the National Sports of Great Britain.
Alken produced prints for S. and J. Fuller, Rudolph Ackermann and Thomas McLean who were leading sporting printsellers during that time. He also frequently collaborates with his friend and one of the sporting journalist Charles James Apperley who was also famous as Nimrod. Ackermann published Alken’s 32 etching on “Nimrods Life of a sportsman” in the year 1842.
He depicted a comic side of riding and also satirized aristocrat’s foibles that were in tradition for 19th-century mimics such as James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson in some of his etching. His best painting “The Belvoir Hunt: Jumping Into and Out of a lane” depicts the oldest of foxhound packs in Leicestershire and it still hangs in Tate Britain.
Henry Alken’s Famous Artworks
Alken worked in oil and watercolor both. He published his earlier productions by being anonymous under the signature of “ben Tallyho”. Later he issued “the Beauties and defects in the Figure of the Horse “under his own name. After this, he etched many of the sporting subjects some of them being colored and others being humorous in character.
Some of his prominent paintings are:
- Spode Training Eastern Bere
- Fox Hunt
- The Duke of Beaufort
- Rubbing Down
- The Kill on the Scent
He also had published many series of books some of which are
- Illustration for Landscape and Scenery and Scraps from the sketchbook of Henry Alken in 1823
- New Sketch Book in 1824
- Sporting Scrap Book and Shakespeare’s Seven Ages in 1827
- Illustration to Popular Songs and Illustration of Don Quixote in 1831.
Alken died in April 1851 and he is deceased at Highgate Cemetery. Although he had a great career and earnings he also faced hard times by the end of his life as he used most of his earning for his daughter’s expenses. He came to be known as an avid etcher, sportsman and is best remembered for his hunting prints