Re-discovering the talents of “that wild girl Gert Hermes”

My name is Katherine Robson and I am Assistant Curator at the River & Rowing Museum. Over the past few months, I have had the wonderful job of co-ordinating the Art of the Wild: Gertrude Hermes and the Natural World touring exhibition (organised by the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford) while it is on display at the Museum this spring.

I must admit now – when our Head of Collections and Exhibitions asked me to lead on this project, Gertrude Hermes was a name that rang no bells for me. Little did I know about her talents as an innovative wood engraver, printmaker, sculptor and teacher or that she mixed in the circles of key British modernist artists, from Barbara Hepworth and Mary Fedden to Henry Moore and Leon Underwood. What I soon discovered was that she was one of the most important British female artists of her generation and a pivotal figure in the revival of wood engraving in the 20th century.

The Ashmolean is lucky enough to have a complete set of Hermes’ prints. Visiting this exhibition will give you a rare opportunity to see a selection of these prints which reveal Hermes’ lifelong fascination with the natural world around her. You will be able to see her intimate and intricate wood engravings of birds, animals and flowers through to the bold coloured linocuts that she produced after the Second World War. Hermes’ drawings and sketchbooks as well as wood engraving tools that she would have been familiar with are also on show, taking you through the creative process behind her work.

After visiting the exhibition, I would highly recommend stepping through the front doors of the Museum and onto the banks of the Thames to see the natural world that inspired Hermes. She lived by the Thames at various points in her life and enjoyed swimming in the river. Hermes’ woodblocks and sculptures were even carved from wood that floated up the river!

She may have faded from public view in more recent years but “that wild girl Gert Hermes” is here to stay at the River & Rowing Museum this spring. Don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful representation of her works which capture the beauty and strange ‘otherness’ of nature.

Art of the Wild: Gertrude Hermes and the Natural World is on display at the River & Rowing Museum until 4 May 2020.