Philip Hermogenes Calderon

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Philip Hermogenes Calderon

English Victorian Romanticist painter and printmaker

Born 1833 - Died 1898

  • Artworks
  • Biography
  • Relationships
  • Letters
  • Images of the Artist


PHILIP HERMOGENESE CALDERON was born in Poitiers in 1833, the son of Juan Calderon, a Roman Catholic priest who had left the church to marry. The family moved to England in the 1840s, when the father became the Professor of Spanish Literature at King’s College, London. The next we hear of Calderon junior, was that he was studying at Leigh’s Academy in 1850. At Leigh’s he started painting, mainly from life. He then went to study in Paris at the atelier of Monsieur Picot, a Membre de l’Institute, the equivalent of an Academician. Here he was not permitted to paint, being compelled to draw from the model, the result required being perfectly accurate from head to toe. This basis of sound draughtsmanship served him well throughout his distinguished career. On his return from France Calderon painted By the Waters of Babylon we sat down and Wept, which was a success at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1852. Strangely he did not follow this up quickly, and for the next five years painted mainly portraits. In 1857 he exhibited at the RA again, this time the picture was Broken Vows. This is one of the most celebrated Victorian pictures, which was engraved and reproduced by the thousand for over twenty years. An elegant, beautiful girl is listening behind a rustic fence, as her disloyal lover is making approaches to another young woman. The young woman was described as being in “an agony of despair.” Calderon was a skilled painter of attractive young women, and had the ability to show their emotions in a way which appealed to Victorian sentiment, and was regarded as chivalrous. He was also the leader of the St John’s Wood Clique, a group of artists who resident in the area, painted history pictures mainly based on the English Civil War, and who lead a vigorous social life. Other members included Frederick Yeames. Philip Calderon the man was a master of self-presentation, being tall, immaculately dressed, and looking - it was often said - like a figure who had stepped straight from a picture by Velasquez. He was a rather exotic, and popular individual, with a charm all of his own. He enjoyed parties, where his behaviour was often boisterous.

Calderon continued to exhibit at the RA, and in 1861 showed Demande en Mariage, and Releasing Prisoners on the Young Heir’s Birthday, the second being an example of the historical genre pictures which were another speciality of his. In 1864 Calderon became ARA. In 1867 he won a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition - rather unsurprising to London critics who regarded his work as an intelligent fusion of English emotion and French panache. In this year he became a full Academician, at the young age of thirty-four. From 1870 onwards he was primarily a painter of portraits. Calderon’s picture Saint Elizabeth of Hungary’s Great Act of Renunciation, by showing the saint kneeling naked in front of the altar in a chapel. The incident is one of historical fact, but the offence was caused by a woman being shown nude in the presence of men. From 1887 he became Keeper of the Royal Academy with responsibility for the management of the RA schools, and in this role lived within Burlington House. The responsibilities of the post reduced his output of pictures. Calderon died suddenly in 1898.

William Frank Calderon the painter (1865-1943) was his third son. Another son assisted Alma-Tadema in the construction of his famous house in the Grove End Road, St John’s Wood.

The Times, Monday May 2nd 1898

Another very considerable loss has befallen the RA in the death of its Keeper, the distinguished painter Philip Hermogones Calderon RA. He succumbed to a long illness - the complications following repeated attacks of influenza - on Saturday morning, and as will be seen from our report of the speeches, his decease cast a gloom over the banquet, every artist feeling that he had lost a friend. Calderon was born of Spanish parentage at Poitiers in 1833, and was trained as an artist in Paris and London. Having settled here he rapidly made his mark, his natural talent leading him to a choice of subject, and a mode of painting, which were more highly appreciated in the early 1860s than they are today. . He had a grace of line and a gift of selecting subjects which would show it, a feeling for colour, a happy art in painting the charm in womanhood; and these gifts came to maturity early, as that nobody was surprised when the young artist became ARA. Nor was it only in England that he was appreciated, for at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 he obtained the first medal given to an English artist, and the ribbon to the Legion d’Honeur. The same year he became a full RA. At this time he painted much, the list of his pictures exhibited at the RA is a long one-most of them at a fairly large size, belonging to the class of genre subjects, sometimes modern, sometimes antique. Among the best remembered are his Diploma Work Whither, and Aphrodite, first shown in The Grosvenor Gallery, a much s discussed picture of the Goddess floating on the deep blue waters of the Agean. This work afterwards had considerable success in Paris.

In 1887 Mr Calderon was appointed Keeper of the RA, in succession to the younger Fothergill. The keeper has a house within the RA precincts, and is the official head of the schools. In this latter capacity Calderon was a great success, his kindliness of heart and geniality making him a general favourite. Naturally he found henceforth less time for painting, and of late years did not often exhibit. He was much interested as an artist and in no sense as an historian in the art of the past, and might often be seen at the National Gallery, where he was especially fond of the reorganised Spanish Room - the room of his fellow countrymen, admiring not only the work of Murrillo, with whom his own work had certain affinities, but Valsquez with whom it had none. He was a popular member of the Athaneum Club, where he will be greatly missed. One of his sons Mr Frank Calderon is already well-known as a painter, chiefly of animal subjects.

Our thanks go to Paul Ripley for kindly allowing us to reprint these articles from his website, Victorian Art in Britain.


father of

  • Calderon, William Frank (1865-1943)

student of

teacher of

  • Bunny, Rupert Charles Wulsten (1864-1947)


associate member of

  • Royal Academy of Art from 1864

full member of

  • Royal Academy of Art from 1867

keeper of

  • Royal Academy of Art from 1887

July 22, 1898

My dear Agnew (Sir William),
Many thanks for thinking of Walkers' old friends just now. And in their name, thanks by the thousand for your munificent gift of the noble "Harbour of Refuge" to the nation. It represents Walker at his best, and we, his old "chums" may well be proud of our friend. As we walk through the Galleries I was much interested with what you told me about blue Seas - at the Manrion House dinnner- Do you happen to have picked up, during your journeyings, any photos of the Greek islands dotted all about? I have hunted everwheere for such a thing (for a blue-sea picture I am painting) but I can't find anything like it. Athens I have, and Mars hill and the Golden Horn and all the stock things - but what I want is the sea with the islands just cropping up hear and there. Know ye such a thing?

Yours very truly

Philip Calderon

Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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Image courtesy of Don Kurtz