Southampton City Museums hold a number of views of the town by Henry Edward Locke but until recently very little was known about this artist. Now, with access to census returns and the British Newspaper Archive, we can tell a fuller story of his life.

Henry Edward Locke was baptised 28 November 1852, in Titchfield , the eldest son of Henry and Mary Anne Locke. In the 1861 census the family had moved to 4, Ann Hill Place, Alverstoke. Henry’s father was a painter and decorator, and the family also took in boarders. In 1871 Henry was visiting William Lancaster, a master cooper living in Sugar House Yard, Southampton. He was a “painter.” Ten years later he was lodging at 21 Chapel Lane, Gosport with Mrs Eliza Grogan. There were two families with a total of six children, another single man, and Henry, to say nothing of two visitors, all crowded into the one property.

In 1861 Henry was 29 years old, and a student of Architecture. He was attending Gosport School of Science and Art, which was affiliated to Science and Art Department of the Board of Education, also known as “the South Kensington Department.” In November of that year, Henry won a prize for his perspective drawings. In April 1884, he had three paintings in the Borough of Portsmouth School of Science and Art annual exhibition. “In oil paintings H.E. Locke exhibits three portraits, one being of himself. They are softly treated, and have considerable merit, but Mr Locke is not quite happy in his own complexion. It must not be supposed that the painter, Narcissus-like, considered his own face the perfection of human beauty, but rather that he had a difficulty in obtaining any other model.”

In 1885, Henry married Maria Weller in Southampton Registry Office. Despite the art school training, he gave his occupation simply as “Decorator,” but he was obviously ambitious to do more, because in May 1886 he was described as “an artist who has lately taken up his residence in Southampton,” and had just completed a commission for the Royal Gloucester Lodge of Freemasons. “Partaking of the mystic and symbolic nature of everything Masonic, the canvas, which measures 6ft in height by 3ft in breadth, pourtrays a coffin lid of uncompromising black on a light ground, the whole being enclosed with a sable border … At the head and foot are designs representative of tools used in masonry, and the central sketches are a death’s head and cross-bones and an altar approached by a tesselated floor, the curtain which hides the interior from praying eyes being partially drawn aside, revealing a figure in the attitude of supplication. It is on these latter emblems that the artist has bestowed especial care, and with their rich colouring and moulded forms, throwing them into bold relief, they constitute the special features of the cleverly executed painting… Mr Locke .. is a South Kensington medallist, and was a leading student at the Portsmouth School of Art.” He was working on a portrait of “the late Mr Horseman, for that gentleman’s family,” among other work. Mr Christopher Horseman was a “well-known local tradesman”. The painting was completed in September 1886. It measured 24x20in. The artist’s “only guide was a cabinet photograph taken some ten or twelve years before Mr Horseman’s death…The deceased’s son has expressed satisfaction with the likeness. … The eyes … are expressive without giving the impression of staring so common in the modern painted photograph or ‘club’ portrait … altogether the artist has achieved a gratifying success.”  

On the 1891 census, Henry was living, with his wife Maria, and four children (Ernest, Elsie, Hilda and Henry) at 15 Belvidere Terrace, Southampton. He gave his occupation as “Portrait Painter and Art Decorator,” and most of his known surviving paintings date from this period. ArtUK, which records works of art in public collections, lists 14, mostly painted 1888-1894 . Three others are undated or have an estimated date, and one was painted in 1904. All are landscapes, primarily views of Southampton: the Bargate, Western Shore,variations of “Canute Tower and Town Quay, and "The High Street, looking from the Quay" (see below). One of the undated paintings is of the ruins of Netley Abbey.

In 1904, he painted the King Alfred statue in Winchester. In August 1888. his grandson, Brian Legge, told the Echo that “while working on his painting his grand-dad would rise at dawn, wash in cold water (which he always did, even in winter) and set out to walk the 12 miles to Winchester with his painting equipment.” This painting now hangs in Winchester Guildhall. Brian was “proud to possess” his grandfather’s painting of the Victory at Portsmouth.

Brian believed that Henry “managed to live mostly on his artistic merits,” however, by the 1901 census it was obvious that the “Portrait Painter and Artistic Decorator” of 1891 was making his living more by the second of those skills. Henry’s occupation was once again “Decorator (House).” The family had moved to 54 Somerset Road, Portswood. Elsie and Hilda were still at home, and there were three younger children: Ivy, Nellie and three-year-old Bertie.

In 1911, they had moved again, across the river to 52 Bridge Road, Itchen, and Henry’s occupation had become “ship’s painter.”

Henry Edward Locke died in the last quarter of 1925. His last address was 49 Knighton Road, Itchen. He left no will.

High Street, Southampton, Looking From the Quay.

Image Unavailable

Oil on wood. Painted by Henry Edward Locke, 1889


Further reading:
Hampshire Telegraph 4 September 1880
Hampshire Telegraph 20 November 1880
Hampshire Telegraph 5 April 1884
Portsmouth Evening News 24 May 1886
Portsmouth Evening News 1 September 1886
Southern Evening Echo 9 August 1988

Other resources:
ArtUk entry for publicly owned works by Henry Edward Locke (accessed 3 August 2016):
http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/keyword:henry-edward-locke

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