'The Last Muster: Sunday at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea' 1875

Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849 – 1914)

Oil on canvas, 214.5 x 159cm
Accession Number LL 3627

Sir Hubert von Herkomer 'The Last Muster'

‘The Last Muster’ was painted after the artist had attended a service at the chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, a home for veteran soldiers (known as the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’) who could not support themselves after leaving the army. Herkomer wrote, ‘The idea was to make every man tell some different story, to be told by his face, or by the selection of attitude.’

The attitude of the central figure, slumped forward with his stick slipping from his grasp, indicates that he has indeed answered ‘the last muster’, while his neighbour anxiously feels his pulse.

Poverty and death were unusual subjects for Victorian painters, who invariably presented them in an ennobling and dignified light. Herkomer had made his name with illustrations of social deprivation in the ‘Graphic’ magazine. He had first published a version of this subject in 1871. He then worked it up into this painting, which received high praise at the Royal Academy and went on to win a gold medal at the Paris exhibition of 1878.

An extended study of 'The Last Muster:Sunday at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea' is also available online as part of our Artwork of the Month series.