Biography

Birth date: 1892
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Ballarat
Death date: 11 February 1945
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne

Harold Brocklebank Herbert was a painter, illustrator, art teacher, art critic and war correspondent. He attended the Ballarat School of Mines and later taught there, but abandoned teaching in 1919. He corresponded with and twice visited the artist Hans Heysen for instruction. Early in his career Herbert became known for his extraordinary skill in the manipulation of watercolour washes. From 1922-23 he travelled and painted in England, France, Spain and Morocco and on his return to Australia participated in regular exhibitions and worked in commercial illustration and poster design. He was also an art critic for the Argus and the Australasian which brought him status and financial reward. From 1926 until his death, Herbert was a member of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board and also belonged to the Australian Artists' Association, Australian Watercolour Institute, NSW Society of Artists and the Victorian Artists' Society.

A friendship with Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey resulted in Herbert's appointment as an official war artist in 1941. Through a memorandum to the War Cabinet in early January 1941, Blamey urged for the appointment of two official war artists, indicating: "Palestine is a land of wonderful colour which lends itself particularly to the water-colourist. May I suggest that you send out Herbert on a six months' engagement of to paint the A.I.F. life as it is at present". Thus Herbert, along with Ivor Hele, was appointed one of the first official war artists of the Second World War. On 5 March 1941, Herbert flew out from Sydney and, at the age of 49, joined the Australian Imperial Forces in the Middle East.

As an official war artist Herbert was given the Press Correspondent number B3/38, and the status and the uniform of an officer without rank. Elevated through his friendship with Blamey and supported with a batman-driver and a truck, Herbert had excellent access across Allied-held territory. He was in Syria and Lebanon during the 5-week Syrian campaign of June and July 1941. Herbert trailed the action, completing watercolours of distant fighting at a hillside town in Merdjayoun, post battle destruction in Destroyed bridge at Damour, and lonely graves marked with white crosses in Anywhere along the coast road. He also travelled through Palestine and Egypt, drawing the vast empty deserts and the Mediterranean coast line, village scenes and military encampments, transport columns and anti-aircraft defences.

After completing his 6-month appointment, Herbert returned to Australia at the start of September 1941. As per his contract, the Memorial selected 50 works for the National Collection, but also purchased an additional 25. These watercolours and pencil drawings are considered among his most brilliant works, full of light, atmosphere and action. A year later an exhibition of Herbert's Middle East watercolours was held at the Sedon Galleries in Melbourne, and until 1944 he was an accredited war correspondent for the Australasian. A known heavy drinker, Herbert died in 1945. That same year, the National Gallery of Victoria held a memorial exhibition of his life's work.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items

Photograph

004719

1941-01. H. HERBERT OFFICIAL ARTIST TO A.I.F.

004719

008634

SYRIA, 1941-07. VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE HOTEL NEW ROYAL AT DAMASCUS. LEANING AGAINST THE WALL IS DRIVER MARSHALL, ASSISTANT TO HAROLD HERBERT, OFFICIAL ARTIST. ON THE WALL BESIDE HIM IS THE REMAINS OF HIS BREAKFAST. THE DOMES BELONG TO THE MOSQUE OF THE SULTAN SELIM DECEASED. (PHOTOGRAPHER: R....

008634

008635

SYRIA. SCENE IN DAMASCUS BEFORE THE MOSQUE OF SULTAN SELIM, ONE OF THE LANDMARKS OF THIS ANCIENT AND FAMOUS CITY. HAROLD HERBERT, AIF OFFICIAL ARTIST IS SEEN SPEAKING WITH NATIVE WOMAN, WHILE HIS DRIVER MARSHALL LOOKS ON. (PHOTOGRAPHER: R. WILLIAMS).

008635

008638

SYRIA, 1941-07. MR HAROLD HERBERT OFFICIAL ARTIST WITH THE AIF MAKES A DRAWING FROM THE HILL OVERLOOKING DAMASCUS. (PHOTOGRAPHER: R. WILLIAMS).

008638

008639

1941-08-09. MR HAROLD HERBERT, OFFICIAL ARTIST WITH THE 2ND AIF, AT WORK ON A PICTURE OF THE ACRE-AR ROAD IN THE NORTH OF PALESTINE. MR HERBERT MADE AN EXTENSIVE TOUR OF THE AREAS BEST KNOWN TO THE 2ND AIF, AND PRODUCED A FINE SERIES OF PICTURES OF PLACES WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF...

008639

Art

General Sir Thomas Blamey

Depicts Sir Thomas Blamey, who was a friend of the donor's grandfather, Jack Alston Wallace. Hence the inscription on the front "Yes! Jack what can I do to help?' Harold Herbert was also friends with Blamey - his friendship with the General led to his appointment as Official War Artist in 1941....

ART29753

(Harold Herbert with portrait of Sir Thomas Blamey)

Depicts the artist, Harold Herbert (made recognisable as such by the drawing and painting implements stuck in his hat) looking at a portrait he has drawn of Sir Thomas Blamey. The General was a friend of the donor's grandfather, Jack Alston Wallace. Harold Herbert was also friends with Blamey -...

ART29754

Mughar Village

Depicts five soldiers outside of the town of Mughar, Palestine. Three of the soldiers in the foreground are standing under pencil pines sketching, while two in he middle ground are simply looking. The scene is situated near an orange grove. Within his Syria Campaign series, Herbert produced a...

ART30040

Spell during route march, Palestine

Depicts a route march near Deir Suneid, with unidentified soldiers gathered in the shade of a tree. The artist wrote 'Under a venerable sycamore tree near Deir Suneid. These trees are famous from Gaza to Gedera. They provide the homes of countless lizards. An Arab in this locality will try to...

ART30041

Camouflaged truck

Depicts a camouflaged truck at Richon-le Zion Palestine (now in Israel). The artist wrote that the truck was depicted "in a setting of date palms - proving the effectiveness of Army camouflage". Rishon le Zion is considered to be the first Zionist settlement in Palestine. It was a fairly shaky...

ART30042

Palms and gardens, Richon

Depicts a man in a red pot-like hat (called a tarboosh) and a group of Australian soldiers gathered near the Eagle Brewery Annex at Rishon le Zion. The scene is one of a lush oasis in the heat. with three large date palms dominating the foreground. Rishon le Zion is considered to be the first...

ART30043

Pyramids

Depicts the pyramids at Giza with the pyramids of Cheops [Khufu] in the foreground. Because Egypt was a protectorate of Britain until 1952, it was a major strategic base for the Allied forces during World War II. Herbert continues to place a shady tree in the foreground of his desert paintings;...

ART30044

Canal, Helwan

Depicts a group of Egyptians carrying water away from a freshwater canal in Helwan, which is near Cairo. Other groups are working in the fields. In the distance are hot baking chalk-white hills. The sparse shade cast by the tree in the foreground seems inadequate. This is part of the artist's...

ART30045

Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem

Australian Imperial Force units arrived in Palestine (then a British mandate territory) early in 1940. They trained there before entering action in North Africa early in 1941. In this watercolour, which was painted from the Australian Soldiers Club in Jerusalem (looking towards the old city gates,...

ART30046

Syrian border

View of Ras en Naqoura, the promontory that forms the coastal point of definition between Syria and Palestine. Rounding the point at sea, are units of the British Fleet, out of Haifa Bay en route to bombard Vichy positions near Beirut. The Customs House and frontier are on top of the promontory....

ART30047

Airing blankets

Depicts a daily scene after Reveille, of the troops airing their blankets in the sun. The camp was situated near a town called Qastina which was located in what is now the called the Gaza Strip - it was totally destroyed, (in what conflict is not clear) and no longer exists. Within his Syria...

ART30048

Deir Suneid Village, near Camp

Army transport, on the wrong side of the road, has pulled up to give "Baksheesh". A typical native village, through which runs a military tarmac road, Palestine.

ART30050

On guard

Australian soldier standing sentry at an encampment. This work was produced as part of the artist's Syrian Campaign series. The artist writes, 'On guard - Typical scene at any Australian camp between Gaza and Qastina - a sentry on guard on the tarmac, near the entrance to the lines'. The...

ART30051

White sand, Mersa Matruh

Typical of Mersa Matruh colour. The sea and the beach unbelievebly dramatic - poster-like. A destroyer and an oil freighter are at anchor in the harbour, Mersa Matruh, Egypt.

ART30052

Transport column

Convoy of trucks and other vehicles crossing through the Sinai desert.

ART30053

Tomahawk

Depicts a Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk fighter in the foreground with two British airplanes in the middleground at Rosh Pinna, Palestine (now in Israel). The Syrian Campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting alongside allied troops against the Vichy French in Syria and...

ART30054

Inside Fort Khiam

Depicts a scene in Khiam, Syria, of a large gun and a building behind it. It is a very rough sketch, with the finer work concentrating on the gun. It is probably an old Krupp gun that was produced during the First World War and thought by the artist to have been used during the Syrian Campaign. ...

ART30056

Blown bridge, Litani River

Depicts a ruined bridge over Litani River, near Marjayoun, Syria (now located in Lebanon). The bridge was blown up by retreating Vichy French forces. The artist wrote: "a serviceable low level bridge has been constructed some hundred yards or so below the bridge - which was a one-span structure...

ART30057

Anywhere along the coast road

Depicts two graves, which are designated by small white crosses in the shadow of three poplar trees. In the background lies a town which has a mosque. This is part of his Syrian series painted in 1941. The title refers to the common sight of fresh graves by the roadside as the conflict dragged...

ART30058

Merdjayoun

Depicts a reconstructed view of action at the Battle of Merdjayoun (19 June 1941 - 24 June 1941). The work is softly described, with pastel blues and yellows, lending an air of unreality to the smoke billowing out of the destroyed buildings in the town. Merdjayoun stood in front of a pass that...

ART30059

Through an olive grove

Looking towards Acre, beyond the hills where a dust storm is blowing. The hull of the ill-fated "Patria" may be seen, lying on its side in the harbour, Hafia, Palestine.

ART30060

Camp at Mena, Cairo

Tents are interesting, as the troops live underground, the floor level being well dug down for anti-aircraft protection. Pyramids in the distance, Egypt.

ART30061

Garrison cinema, Qastina

The camp is Qastina, but the cinema building is identical with those provided for the entertainment of troops at all camps in the area. The theatre was a much-favoured spot, two shows nightly being provided. In foreground is a tent which has been newly camouglaged in mud.'

ART30062

Camp at Mena, Cairo

Camp at Mena, Cairo - Tents are interesting, as the troops live underground, the floor level being well dug-in for anti-aircraft protection. Pyramids in the distance!'.

ART30063

The bathing beach, Mersa Matruh

Lido Hotel near bathing beach. The artist writes, 'Troops bathing at Mersa Matruh. Their costumes are "birthday suits", the white "trunks" being the only portion unsunned. Intense colour of the water-blue-purple-blue-green is accentuated by the very deep tone of the sky toward the horizon and...

ART30064

Mount Carmel Road

Depicts a panoramic view from Mount Carmel Road. In the distant harbour (probably Port Haifa, now in Israel) freighters and oil tankers can be seen at the moorings. The main shipping wharf is on the nearer shore. This was produced as part of the artist's Syrian Campaign series. The campaign...

ART30065

Anti-aircraft defence

A Bofors 40mm anti aircraft gun and a slit trench. Emplacements are sand - bagged for protection. In the foreground is an observer's position. The occupant left his steel helmet lying on the ground outside his O.P, Egypt.

ART30066

Destroyed bridge at Damour

Depicts bridge crossing Damour, Syria, (now Lebanon). Herbert's classically trained handling of the medium renders the scene clearly, but in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The artist writes 'Syrian campaign series painted August 1941...Destroyed Bridge at Damour. Fine bridge of masonry blown...

ART30067

Supply column, Haifa

Depicts a convoy of trucks (a supply column) belonging to the Australian Imperial Force leaving Haifa (then in Palestine, now in Israel) for Syria. The broad panoramic sky combines with the sharp perspectival line of the road to produce the illusion of depth; the trucks are leaving the comfort of...

ART30068

Transport column

Army transport in the desert. One of the transport columns was several miles long. "One is hardly visible because of a sandstorm. Transport often had to contend with big sand-drifts which made passage temporarily impossible in the deserts. Tar barrels, empty, may be seen beside the paved...

ART30069

Camp Panorama

Qastina encampment and water tower. The town was in what is now the Gaza Strip - it was totally destroyed, (in what conflict is not clear) and no longer exists. The artist writes, 'An extensive view of the military camp at Qastina, from the officers' lines. It shows tents covering a wide area, and...

ART30071

Haifa, from Mount Carmel

Shows panoramic view of harbour entrance from Mount Carmel, with hull of SS Patria in harbour, Palestine.

ART30072

Advanced Field Dressing Station, near Damour, Syria

Depicts an advanced field dressing station near Damour (which is near Beirut and now located in Lebanon) during the Syrian Campaign. The Syrian Campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting alongside allied troops against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.

ART30073

Bombardment of Damour

Bombardment of Damour. Evacuees leaving Damour with their packs and donkeys. Transport has stopped. The town is being shelled by the Navy and allied artillery. Large fires were started. The impression seemed all the more sinister on account of this day of glorious colour and sunshine'. Regarding...

ART30074

Desert

Just desert - Typical of the unpleasant Sinai crossing, with its never-ending strip of tarmac!

ART30075

Gaza Ridge Camp

Depicts an encampment at Gaza Ridge, with the town of Deir Suneid in the distance. The artist writes 'Part of Gaza Ridge camp (Kilo 89) - new trenches on the site of old Turkish earthworks.' This was produced as part of the artist's Syrian Campaign series. The campaign involved Australian...

ART30076

Water tower, Qastina

Depicts a camouflaged water tower in the middle of the army encampment, and a Jewish settlement in the distance. Qastina was a town in the desert, 38 kilometres north east of Gaza, and now located in the Gaza strip. The village was destroyed during the war, and no longer exists. This painting...

ART30077

Route march

Depicts a route march through the village of Gedera. The artist writes: ' This was produced as part of the artist's Syrian Campaign series. The campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting alongside allied troops against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.

ART30078

Harbour entrance Haifa

Depicts the harbour entrance to Haifa, then in Palestine, now in Israel. Painted as part of the Syrian Campaign series. The campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting alongside allied troops against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.

ART30079

The town, Mersa Matruh

The town - The colourless town of Mersa Matruh from the hills on the outskirts near the railway yards. With the exception of a few renovated buildings, villas etc, the town is a mass of crumbling ruins and dust'.

ART30080

Bound for Suez

Bound for Suez - Freighters bringing up supplies for the army. The canal is something to see, after journeying across the desert. One realises, all at once, how good is the smell of sea water, the sight of fish'.

ART30081

Searchlight overhaul

Search light overhaul - Late afternoon preparations for work at night. A felucca under sail is seen beyond an anti-aircraft gun in the distance'.

ART30082

Raider, Mersa Matruh

Raider, Mersa Matruh - German raider over Mersa Matruh at dawn. Steel-helmeted troops in a slit trench. White puffs of smoke indicate anti-aircraft fire'.

ART30083

Abu Gosh

Abu Gosh, A village beside the road, close to Jerusalem'. Principal leave centre for troops in Palestine.

ART30084

Road into the town, Mersa Matruh

Depicts view of the road leading into the town of Mersa Matruh in the Western Desert, Egypt. Mersa Mutrah was a key port during the conflict, and was taken by German commander Rommel in 1942. Following their defeat, the British retreated to El Alamein. Painted as part of the Syrian Campaign...

ART30085

Admiralty House

"The road to the sea-front, Mersa Matruh". Admiralty House on left, a destroyer in the harbour. The destroyer made trips from Tobruch, landing wounded for the Mersa Matruh hospital or for train transport to Alexandria. Sometimes she went through to Alexandria, calling at Mersa Matruh for fuel, or...

ART30086

Searchlight

Searchlight - Final touches before evening manoeuvres. Time is about sunset'.

ART30087

Wrecked ships, Tel Aviv

Depicts the hulks of two steamers, the Parita and the Tiger Hill with the seaport of Jaffa, Palestine (now Israel) in the background. This work is part of the Syrian campaign series that was produced in 1941. The Syrian Campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting...

ART30088

Lake Tiberias

Depicts three Australian troops consulting a map with the stunning vista of Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee) as a backdrop. Herbert was appointed as an Official War Artist in February 1941, and served in the Middle East for 6 months. The artist writes: '...Looking across Lake Tiberias from the road...

ART30089

Camouflaged artillery

Depicts a 25 pounder gun camouflaged outside of Damour, Syria (now in Lebanon). Produced during the Syrian campaign and painted in July 1941. The artist wrote of the work 'Camouflaged artillery - Units of the Royal Navy and Field Artillery preparing to shell Damour a day or two prior to the...

ART30090

Entrance to Fort Khiam

Depicts the entrance to Fort Khiam (or Al Khiam), previously part of Syria, is now within the borders of Lebanon. It has been the site of so many occupying armies from different nations that its name means tents in Arabic. Before the allies took it, the fort was occupied by the Vichy French, and...

ART30091

Acre - Australians passed this way!

Acre - Australians Passed this Way. The bay and town of Acre through which Australian troops passed during their advance towards Beirut. It was in this ancient town that the Armistice Convention was arranged at the Sydney Smith Barracks on 12 July 1941. In the foreground beneath the trees, are mute...

ART30092

Transport problems in Malaya

Depicts a reconstructed view of transport problems in Malaya, and based on photographs. The artist wrote in a letter on 31 August 1942 of the work '...watercolour of an incident in Malaya...I have not adhered strictly to the photographs...as far as composition is concerned...and had to rely...on...

ART30101

Not titled [Malaya]

Three Australians under palm trees with sentry in background, Malaya.

ART30102

Junglers

Reconstruction from photograph of troops' activities in Malaya. Two Australian soldiers are on patrol in the jungle.

ART30103

H. Q. 2/25 Battalion, Mersa Matruh

A view across the street from the headquarters of the 2/25th Australian Infantry Battalion at Mersa Matruh in Egypt.

ART30280

Haifa Wharf

Depicts camouflaged desert trailers that carry generators in Port Haifa, then Palestine, now Israel. In the middle foreground are the soldiers in charge of equipment. Drawn as part of the Syrian Campaign series. The campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting...

ART30281

Loading freighters, Haifa

Depicts freighters in the port of Haifa, Palestine (now in Israel) being loaded with war supplies. This was produced as part of the Syrian campaign series of 1941. The sharp linearity of the drawing draws the eye from the foreground back into the vastness of the docks. The ships are bulky and...

ART30282

Tug, Mersa Matruh

Tug, Mersa Matruh, landing stage, Egypt.

ART30283

Smoko

Depicts three unidentified soldiers having 'smoko', Palestine.

ART30284

Route march

Depicts a group of Australian soldiers, route march, Qastina, Palestine.

ART30286

Ack-ack, attached to railway train

An anti-aircraft gun mounted on a railway truck and attached to the trains taking troops and supplies from Alexandria to Mersa Matruh, Egypt.

ART30287

Sound indicating equipment

Depicts Australian soldiers manning a very early prototype of a radar, except that it detects radio waves. The machine would detect the approach of an airplane, allowing troops to prepare for the advent of an attack by point anti-aircraft guns in the correct direction. Drawn as part of the Syrian...

ART30288

Alert

Depicts troops and civilians in Haifa moving towards shelter during an alarm for an air raid. A small newspaper clipping pasted to the front of the drawing reads "Air Raid Alarm in Haifa: An air raid warning was sounded here this morning and the 'all clear came after 15 minutes. No bombs were...

ART30289

Port of Haifa

Depicts supply ships, service craft, barges and supply ships in the Port of Haifa, Palestine [now in Israel]. This drawing is part of a series produced about the Syria Campaign of 1941. The campaign involved Australian troops, mostly from the 7th Division, fighting alongside allied troops against...

ART30290

At Matruh Habour

A river gun-boat disembarking troops at Mersa Matruh, Egypt.

ART30291

Untitled [German prisoners]

Incomplete sketch of German prisoners at Mersa Matruh, Egypt.

ART30292

Untitled [sketch of four men]

Pencil sketch of four unidentified men.

ART30293

Life line

Pencil sketch of a row of telegraph lines and poles, with the mountains in the distance.

ART30294

Les Arabes

Pencil sketch of some Arabic men.

ART30295

Not titled [portrait of a man]

Pencil sketch of an unidentifed man wearing a hat.

ART30296

Damascus

Depicts Sultan Selim Mosque in Damascus, probably after the Battle of Damascus. This was the final conflict in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, in which Allied forces took the city from the Vichy french on 21 June 1941. The scene is one of a peaceful town nestled in a valley. The Syrian Campaign...

ART30297

Mosques and minarets, Damascus

Depicts mosques in Damascus, after the city was taken from the Vichy French by Allied forces. The Battle of Damascus was the final conflict in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, and ended on the 21 June 1941. This drawing is part of a series produced about the Syria Campaign of 1941. The campaign...

ART30298

Armistice Convention

The sketch depicts several groups of uniformed soldiers standing in the courtyard at Smith Barracks in Acre, Palestine (now 'Akko, Israel). Herbert was appointed official war artist in February 1941. He noted that during his commission 'I sketched first of all in the camp areas in Palestine, then...

ART30299

Drawing inside Fort Khiam

Fort Khiam (or Al Khiam), previously part of Syria, is now within the borders of Lebanon. It has been the site of so many occupying armies from different nations that its name means tents in Arabic. Before the allies took it, the fort was occupied by the Vichy French, and written on the gate is...

ART30300

Not titled [profile portrait of a man]

Profile portrait of an unidentified man wearing a hat.

ART94224

drawing for headpiece for "Ack-I-Foofs"

Drawing by Herbert for the inaugural header for the 'ACK-I-FOOFS' page 5 in the 'A.I.F News'. Launched in July 1941 the page was to be a 'Diggers page' for the A.I.F. Readers were invited to send in ' items of interest, amusing incidents, verse, sketches and photographs for publication...not all...

ARTI03458

Troops bathing, Gaza Beach

Depicts a beach scene at Gaza in Israeal during the Second World War. The guard looks longingly at his friends who are surfing or lazing on the beach. The refreshment tents, where voluntary workers serve tea, cake and cigarettes free to the troops, and the shelter tents are provided by the...

ART30049

Anti-aircraft gun and enemy bombers

An incident on the Beirut - Damour Road. Anti-aircraft gun in action against enemy planes. Allied naval vessels are in the distance. Banana, prickly pear and olive trees were the chief form of vegetation and usually formed good cover, Syria.

ART30055

Timeline

Date of birth 1892
Date of death 1945-02-11