Harry Becker (1865-1928) Cart Horse

Harry Becker (1865-1928) Cart Horse


Harry Becker, the son of a German immigrant, was born in Colchester in 1865. His artistic talents were noticeable from a young age, and at 14 he was sent to the Royal Academy of Antwerp for formal training. He finished his education in Paris in the studio of Carolus Duran, a fashionable portrait painter. During his time in Paris Becker was greatly influenced by the Impressionists, a passion which Duran did not share, in particular Edgar Degas whose use of mixed media and emphasis on light on stained canvases interested Becker. However, it was Duran’s formal qualities and theories of tonality, which would dominate Becker’s art for years to come.

From 1886-1894 Becker lived in the Minories in Colchester where he painted watercolour portraits as well as landscapes in both watercolour and oils. In 1894 he moved to London to open his studio where he became well known for his lithographs and dramatic graphic work. In 1902 he married Georgina Waddington, a fellow artist, who gave birth a year later to their daughter, Janet. In 1913 they settled in Suffolk where he would remain till his death in 1928, shunning the commercial art world in favour of painting the rural landscapes and people he so loved. During his lifetime Becker received a number of high profile commissions most notably one in 1908 for a large mural in the central hall for a new Department store owned by Gordon Selfridge. However, the commission was later cancelled due to disagreements between Becker and Selfridge due largely to Becker’s contempt of commercialism.

Becker spent much of his later years living in near poverty, a poverty that is reflected in his use of materials; reusing old canvas and scrapes of paper. Despite this he spent much of his time trying to buy back paintings he had sold earlier in his career…

“I think it is disheartening to give away your picture because then they’re hung on walls and nobody ever looks at them again.” [1]


During the 13 years he lived in Suffolk, Harry Becker made numerous records of work on the land before the mechanisation of farming. During this time he shared his life with the agricultural community and was often seen out in the fields with his sketch books. His work which belongs to the tradition of ‘peasant painting’ is also in line with the Naturalism of the nineteenth century whereby natural objects are represented as they appear rather than in a stylised or conceptual way. This drawing of a Suffolk Punch fits in with this stylistic art form. Here the horse is very realistic and although Alfred Munnings described Becker’s horses as lumpy [2] it is not the case here. In this drawing one detects energy and passion. The speed and fluidity present in the image are evidence of a remarkably skilled artist. This drawing was probably executed in about 1914, when there were still Suffolk Punch horses in the fields. Later they were requisitioned by the army as they could haul gun-carriages through the mud of the trenches. Many died drowned, bogged down in places such as Passchendaele as depicted by artists such as Paul Nash (q.v.) whose work can also be found in this catalogue.


  • [1] David Thompson, , Harry Becker, 1865-1928, Ipswich, 1993, p.39
  • [2] David Thompson, , Harry Becker, 1865-1928, Ipswich, 1993, p.42


  • NATIONAL ART LIBRARY: Information file on Harry Becker
  • THE MINORIES, Harry Becker 1865-1928, Colchester, 1974
  • THOMPSON, David, Harry Becker, 1865-1928, Ipswich, 1993


Harriet Pratt for the biography

Evelyne Bell for the statement