The Cockle Gatherers, by Arthur Hacker was for many years a hidden treasure in the Worcester City Museum Collection, its poor condition having meant it had not been on display for many years.
The son of a sporting-prints engraver, Hacker graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 1880 and went on to study in Paris. One of his fellow pupils was Stanhope Forbes, whose greatest work Chadding on Mounts Bay is a firm favourite in Worcester’s collection. Like Forbes, Hacker developed a style that maintained the great large-scale traditions of Victorian high art with the expressionism of painting en plein air.
Hacker’s painting of French peasant life Her Daughter’s Legacy was the Royal Academy Exhibition’s greatest talking point in 1881. He was elected an Academician in 1910, by which time he was concentrating on a lucrative portrait painting practice with many well-known sitters. The Cockle Gatherers probably dates from about the turn of the twentieth century.
The painting’s varnish had changed considerably from Hacker’s application, turning very yellow through age and from being hung in rooms where smoking was allowed. Hacker’s painting definition was no longer able to be seen. A test section in the top right corner was cleaned and showed what a dramatic difference could be made. With the help of funding from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museums’ members, the whole painting was cleaned in 2018 and the canvas tear bottom right (previously held together with tissue) was repaired. A painting none of us had previously seen was revealed!