On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that officially ended the First World War, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  Although the conference was attended by representatives of nearly thirty nations, the treaty was essentially written by ‘The Big Four’, France, Britain, Italy and the USA.  One of the war artists who captured the activities of the conference was former Sherborne School pupil, Herbert Arnould Olivier (1861-1952).

The Hall of Mirrors in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, 1919, by H.A. Olivier © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4213)

Herbert Olivier was the son of the Rev. Henry Arnould Olivier.  Like his father before him Herbert attended Sherborne School (School House), where he arrived in January 1875, aged 13.  Over the next three years Herbert made the most of the artistic and musical opportunities available at the School.  He joined the recently formed Musical Society, then run by the director of School Music Louis Napoleon Parker, and took part in many concerts.  He also took drawing lessons with the School’s art master, Alexander Davidson Longmuir who had studied at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.  A number of Longmuir’s pupils went on to become successful artists, including Percy Buckman (1865-1948) and Lawrence Koe (1868-1913).  In the Summer examinations 1875, Herbert was placed second in model drawing and first in freehand drawing, and the following year he was placed second in perspective drawing.

Herbert went on to study at the Royal Academy Schools and in 1882 won the Creswick Prize for landscape painting.  He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1881 to 1944 and also exhibited regularly at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters,  the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and the Paris Salon.  In 1884, Herbert accompanied the Duke and Duchess of Connaught on a journey through Kashmir and the following year showed sixty-six of the painting from this trip at the Fine Art Society.

In 1917 Herbert was appointed an Official War Artist and soon established a reputation as a portrait painter for the remarkable group portraits he executed during this period.

The four military representatives of the Supreme War Council in session at Versailles, 1919, by H.A. Olivier © IWM (Art IWM ART 4214)

 

Representatives of ‘The Big Four’ painted by H.A. Olivier, 1919.
Clockwise from top left: General Sir Emile Belin (France), General Di Robilant (Italy), Major-General The Hon. Charles Sackville-West (Britain), General Tasker Bliss (USA). © IWM

In 1906, Herbert presented to Sherborne School his portrait of Headmaster F.B. Westcott as St Aldhelm in the 1905 Sheborne Pageant. Although this portrait was for many years displayed at The Digby its current whereabouts is unknown.  In 1922, Herbert presented another painting to the School – Easter Morn, the Resurrection for chapel extension designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield as a memorial to the 221 Old Shirburnians who had died in the First World War.  Apparently, Herbert had originally intended the painting for a church in Italy but it was put in such a bad light that he refused to leave it there.

Easter Morn, the Resurrection by H.A. Olivier RA, 1904-1905. Sherborne School.

Herbert exhibited what he described as a ‘premature posthumous collection’ of his paintings at the Royal Institute Galleries on Piccadilly in 1935.  He hoped this exhibition would show ‘that I have had the privilege of wandering in many fields both inanimate and animate, and have had serious joy in variety rather than seeing that commercial success which is the reward of the repetition of one thing‘.

Herbert Arnould Olivier died on 2 March 1952 at Hayling Island, Hampshire.  Frank Salisbury, writing in The Times, said of him, ‘Today there is a danger of an artist being wrapped up in his work, but broadminded, gallant Olivier looked for and encouraged the best, especially in the work of the young, rising artist starting out on an adventurous career.’

Herbert was the uncle of Sir Laurence Olivier whose step-daughter Suzanne Holman, Vivien Leigh’s daughter with her first husband Leigh Holman, attended Sherborne Girls’.  He was also the uncle of Noël Olivier, the object of Rupert Brooke’s unrequited love.

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist
28 June 2019

Further reading:
A quest to end war: the Paris Peace Conference 1919 by Gary Haines, 18 January 2019
The Athenaeum: Herbert Olivier’s artworks
Sherborne School and the First World War

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