It always gets worse and never gets better
Sir Hubert von Herkomer
26 May 1849 - 31 Mar 1914
Hubert von Herkomer rose to prominence in the 1870s as a leading proponent of social realism in England, influenced by both the anecdotal and picturesque styles of the German ‘village tale’ painters (such as Franz von Defregger and Wilhelm Leibl) and English idealism in the vein of Frederick Walker. Herkomer founded the School of Art at Bushey, Hertfordshire and became the Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford, 1885-94.
‘It always gets worse and never gets better’ (‘Immer wird schlimmers und besser wird nimmer’) is an example of Herkomer’s Bavarian peasant scenes, made during a particularly intense period of interest in the simple dignity of country life. The artist spent a few months of each year from 1871 until his death in the Bavarian alps, with the primary aim of experiencing peasant life and using those around him as models for his art. During these visits he created numerous etchings, watercolours and paintings in oil of Bavarian life for English audiences, either for exhibition in the UK or reproduction in The Graphic magazine. This watercolour was painted in Ramsau in June 1877 during one of his annual sojourns to the area.
The central seated figure depicts Herkomer himself, playing a zither and immersed in the idyll of his chosen lifestyle. The inscription ‘Immer wird schlimmers und besser wird nimmer’ near the arched entrance to the tavern, derives from a German proverb and translates: ‘It always gets worse and never gets better.’ In keeping with Herkomer’s recurring motif of the inevitability of death and decline, the inscription is most probably intended to make a literal association between the contemplative figures of Herkomer and the elderly man seated to his left.
‘It always gets worse and never gets better’ relates directly through composition and subject to the drawing Tyrolese bowling alley, purchased by the Gallery in 1880. Both works were made whilst Herkomer was creating his celebrated watercolour Light, Life and Melody of 1877-79, and may be seen to inform this later, larger work.
Immer wird schlimmers und besser wird nimmer
watercolour and scraping out
20.0 x 23.5 cm image; 24.5 x 31.6 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r., pen "Hubert Herkomer/June 18 77"
Gift of Michael Crane in memory of Dr Lee MacCormick Edwards 2017
Not on display
Unknown, pre 1984
Private Collection, 17 Oct 1984-25 Apr 2013, London/England, Purchased at Sotheby's London Auctions, 17 October 1984, lot 456
Lee MacCormick Edwards, 25 Apr 2013, London/England, Purchased at Bloomsbury Auctions, Old Master to 20th Century Drawings, Watercolours and Prints, 25 April 2013, lot 65
Michael Crane, 2014, Edgecliff/Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, Gifted to Michael Crane by Dr Lee MacCormick Edwards. Considered item to be gifted to the Gallery.
Referenced in 2 publications
Herkomer: A Victorian Artist, Aldershot, 1999, p 63, no 68, col illus p 63.
Hubert von Herkomer, C.V.O., R.A. A study and biography, London, 1904, p 117.