Herbert Colborne Oakley   (1869 - 1944)
Lectures and Letters

HCO in 1921


Aside from painting and sketching, Herbert C. Oakley was a prolific letter writer.  The many notebooks, in which he recorded the "Letters Received And Answered", show the unusual extent of this activity.  However apart from a letter of condolence written to the Arnold family in St. David's, no records exist of those he wrote to friends and family, that might have provided an insight into his life as an artist and the associated trials and tribulations he encountered - as well as whatever successes he may have achieved.

Included in the section under "Lectures" are newspaper articles that report on his lectures on art in Southampton and Bournemouth, in the years following his retirement from teaching art.

In the "Letters From Abroad" section are a sample of the "letters" written while traveling in France and Italy, to a friend in Southampton - letters that may well have been understood by both he and the friend to be for publication in the Southampton newspaper the "Southern Daily Echo".  One article in particular stands out, the one written in Florence on hearing of the death of John Singer Sargent, the artist who appears to have had the greatest influence his own work, primarily his portraits.

In his middle and later years (and possibly earlier), he wrote extensively and passionately to local newspapers, about any subject that aroused his interest.  He certainly did not feel reserved in making his point, however he always aimed for the morally high ground in developing and expounding his points and arguments.  This seems clearly to be a reflection of his strong Christian beliefs.  A sampling of his letters are included in the section "The Concerned Citizen - Letters To The Editor", as examples of his interests, as well as his passion.  They are written on a variety of subjects - social issues, political events, environmental concerns of that era, and lastly, but possibly most important to him, religious issues.

Back to Contents

His Lectures

"It is true that the Philistines of the Victorian era may have laughed with some reason at the extravagant æsthete who could lie upon a Persian prayer rug and contemplate "intensely" the perfection of a lily, or a sunflower;"

"The lecturer dealt at some length with the principles of Aestheticism, and on the need of it--in these days of growing towns and great cities--pointing out that the science of the beautiful was increasingly necessary as a salutary corrective of some of the sordid aspects of the material side of modern life."

"Velasquez never pandered by presenting things that didn't matter, but he dealt with things essential, and Sargent possessed the same traditions, courage, and point of view."

Back to Contents

Letters From Abroad

"For years among the artists' fraternity - those of enlightened minds and quickened vision - as the summer shows came round the question was (and how well I remember it!):  What is Sargent showing?  For he is an artist's artist.  Only those who by practical experience know the difficulties can measure the triumphs of a career that I cannot yet grasp is ended."

John Singer Sargent

Photo courtesy of the
"JSS Virtual Gallery"

The "JSS Virtual Gallery" website, referenced above, is a truly comprehensive resource on the life and work of a famous artist, and one of the world's greatest portrait painters.  Sargent quite obviously inspired Oakley, and may have heavily influenced his technique.  For those interested, you can find here virtually all of Sargent's portraits - and draw your own conclusions about a possible influence.

Good examples are the portraits of :

- Carl Maldoner (1914; 20 x 24)
- John French, 1st Earl of Ypres (circa 1919 - 1922; 15 x 21)
- Sir Henry Hughes Wilson (circa 1922; 15 x 21)

" The father of Michael Angelo had two farms here, and the great artist's boy-hood was largely spent here, from which place you can see a beautiful panorama of hills and vales, the river Arno, the orange-coloured lichen roofs of Castellos’ country houses and farms, embowered in grey-green trees, Florence, with its domes and cupolas, and here and there the solemn sobriety of cypress trees pointing to the perfect blue of an Italian sky."

"Out of the dusty gold rises Bruneschelli's dome, the tower of Santa Croce, where Michael Angelo is buried."

"Westwards the mountains melted into gold and the vale of the Arno, meandering past Florence and its domes and spires, seemed like the fine dust of gold suffused with rose."

Back to Contents

The Concerned Citizen - Letters To The Editor

"Yet it may be frequently noted that these same teetotallers, filled with complacent zeal in prohibiting drinks for themselves and prescribing their negative virtues on others, make up for their self-denials by indulging themselves in repletion at the table, and as St. Jude says: "Feeding themselves without fear." "

"... all these beautiful flowers are laid low, and in the place once so well adorned we can see at our leisure the closely cropped hedge and a barren prospect as we proceed for miles on the highways of the King."

"Meanwhile, let us beware of making sport a religion and sportsmen idols.  A sense of proportion will save us much and leave us sane and serene."

"Is it a matter for apathy or weak apology that the Welsh flag shall fly first and foremost in Wales?"

"Hitler always strikes me as a pigmy trying to fill out a giant's clothes, a small man in a big office, with all the effrontery of a beggar on horseback, full of firework speeches and firebrand propaganda, ..."

Back to Contents

Even before his advanced age slowed him down, the threat of war and then the onset of hostilities was to bring an end to much that he enjoyed - particularly the visits to his friends in France and Italy.

HCO late in life

The End.
Thank you for viewing.

"The H. C. Oakley Virtual Gallery" Copyright © 2005-2013 Andrew Gray