Ernest Borough-Johnson, the youngest of the three principal artists involved in the collaborative illustration of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, was born in December 1866, in Shropshire. Resident in Basingstoke after his time as a pupil at Bushey, Johnson (Graves gives the spelling "Johnston") was a country man suited by experience and temperament to his task here.
Between 1887 and 1892 he exhibited twelve paintings, eight at the Royal Academy, including Her Daily Bread (1887), Winchelsea, From Winchelsea, and Motherless (1889), Study of a Head, and Spring Blossom (1890). His most successful literary illustration was that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline kissing the "dying lips" of her lover Gabriel. While Graves gives Borough-Johnson's specialty as "Domestic" in his 1895 Dictionary, in his 1905 Royal Academy of the Arts Dictionary Graves emphasizes Johnson's work as a landscape and genre painter. Bénézit notes Johnson's work as a lithographer, and mentions that this artist's productions have been on display at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. In short, Ernest Borough-Johnson enjoyed a career that was at least the equal of Daniel Wehrschmidt's, although neither artist made the mark in the annals of nineteenth-century painting that Hubert Herkomer did, and no critic notes their work as illustrators.
That the Professor assigned Johnson six plates to Syddall's five suggests their chief's greater confidence in an artist who had demonstrated a greater pictorial acumen over the five years preceding the collaborative project. In The Graphic Johnson tends to adopt the style of illustration established by Herkomer, and some of his plates approach the quality of the master's. Further, the dimensions of Johnson's plates suggest that both Herkomer and Locker were pleased with his work, for only one of his plates, the meditative but rather undramatic vision of Tess lying on the grass (September 19th) is of the half-page format. In total, Johnson's plates occupy five-and-a-half pages of the magazine, only one page less than Wehrschmidt's eight plates. Perhaps the rank-ordering of Herkomer's esteem for his pupils' work is traceable in the order in which he had them follow his opening illustration: Wehrschmidt (July 18), Johnson (July 25), then Syddall (August 1 and 8).
Last modified 5 December 2000