Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Pollen, John Hungerford
POLLEN, JOHN HUNGERFORD (1820–1902), artist and author, born at 6 New Burlington Street, London, W., on 19 Nov. 1820, was second son (in a family of three sons and three daughters) of Richard Pollen (1786-1838) of Rodbourne, Wiltshire, by his wife Anne, sister of Charles Robert Cockerell [q. v.], the architect. Sir John Walter Pollen (1784-1863), second baronet of Redenham, Hampshire, was his uncle. Educated at Durham House, Chelsea (1829-33), and at Eton (1833-8) under Edward Coleridge, Pollen matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1838; he graduated B.A. in 1842, and proceeded M.A. in 1844; he was fellow of Merton College (1842-52), and dean and bursar in 1844, and served as senior proctor of the university (1851-2).
Pollen fell early under the influence of the Oxford Movement, and read much patristic literature. Taking holy orders, he became curate of St. Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford; but the Tractarian upheaval of 1845 weakened Pollen's attachment to the Church of England, and he resigned his curacy in 1846. With Thomas William Allies [q. v. Suppl. II] he visited Paris in 1847, and studied the organisation of the French church. On his return he associated himself with Pusey, Charles Marriott [q. v.], and the leading ritualists, and became pro-vicar at St. Saviour's, Leeds, the church which Pusey had founded in 1842. During his stay there (1847-52) most of his colleagues seceded to Rome. In December 1852 he was inhibited by Charles Thomas Longley [q. v.], then bishop of Ripon, for his extreme sacramental views, and on 20 Oct. 1852 he was himself received into the Roman catholic church at Rouen. His elder brother Richard (afterwards third baronet) followed his example next year (see Pollen's Narrative of Five Years at St. Saviour's, Leeds, Oxford, 1851, and his Letter to the Parishioners of St. Saviour's, Leeds, Oxford, 1851). Visits to Rome at the end of 1852 and 1853 led to friendship with (Cardinal) Herbert Vaughan [q. v. Suppl. II] and with W. M. Thackeray.
Pollen, who remained a layman, thenceforth devoted himself professionally to art and architecture. He had already studied the subjects at home and on his foreign travel, and practised them as an amateur, with the encouragement of his uncle, Charles Cockerell.
In 1842 he restored the aisle of Wells Cathedral, where another uncle Dr. Goodenough, was dean. While curate he designed and executed in 1844 the ceilings of St. Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford, and he was responsible for the fine ceiling of Merton College chapel in 1850. Early in 1855 he accepted the invitation of John Henry Newman [q. v.], the rector, to become professor of fine arts in the catholic university of Ireland in Dublin, and to build and decorate the university church. His lectures, which began in June 1855 (printed in 'Atlantis,' the official magazine of the university), dealt with general aesthetic principles rather than with technique, in which he had no adequate training. He also joined the staff of the 'Tablet' newspaper, where he showed independence and sagacity as an art critic, detecting the merits of Turner and Whistler long before their general recognition.
In the summer of 1857 Pollen finally settled in London, living first at Hampstead and from 1858 to 1878 at Bayswater. He had previously met at Oxford Turner and Millais, and through Millais grew intimate with other Pre-Raphaelites. With Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and William Morris he' assisted in the fresco decoration of the hall of the Union Society at Oxford in the summer of 1858 (see Holman Hunt's Story of the Paintings at the Oxford Union Society, Oxford, 1906, fol.; Esther Wood's Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, 1894, pp. 142-6; Memorials of Sir E. Burne-Jones, 1904, i. 158 seq.). He was one of the first to reintroduce fresco decoration into England. Meanwhile his admiration for Turner's work brought him Ruskin's acquaintance (1855), and in 1860, at Ruskin's request, he designed for the new Oxford Museum a scheme of decoration, which was not carried out; his drawing is in the Museum (see The Times, 11 Feb. 1909).
From 1860 onwards Pollen was busily engaged on private and public commissions. Chief among his works were the decoration of Blickling Hall, Aylsham, for the Marquis of Lothian in 1860, and the fresco decoration at Alton Towers, the seat of the Earl of Shrewsbury (1874–7). At Alton Towers he produced the effect of tapestry by skilfully and with archaeological accuracy painting in oil on rough canvas incidents in the hundred years' war. A design in water-colours for one of the canvases, 'The Landing of Henry V at Harfleur,' was purchased after Pollen's death for South Kensington Museum. He was responsible for stained glass windows, furniture, and panels in the Jacobean style at another of Lord Shrewsbury's seats; Ingestre Hall, Stafford, from 1876 to 1891; he built a house in 1876 for Lord Lovelace on the Thames Embankment, and an ornamental cottage in 1894 at Chenies for the Duchess of Bedford. Among many ecclesiastical commissions was the building and decoration in 1863 of the church of St. Mary, Rhyl, and of the convent of the Sacred Heart at Wandsworth in 1870.
Meanwhile, Thackeray, for whose 'Denis Duval' Pollen made in 1863 an unfinished series of sketches, introduced him to Sir Henry Cole [q. v.], who appointed him in December 1863 official editor of the art and industrial departments of the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museimi. He also served on the advisory committee for purchases until November 1876. Pollen devoted his energies to the South Kensington collections, and besides issuing official catalogues gave lectures on historical ornament and kindred subjects. He served on the jury for art at the international exhibition at South Kensington in 1862, at the Dublin exhibition in 1865, and at Paris in 1867. At the Society of Arts he lectured frequently on decorative art, delivering the Cantor lectures in 1885 on 'Carving and Furniture,' and winning the society's silver medal for a paper on 'Renaissance Woodwork' in 1898.
Resigning his South Kensington post in November 1876, Pollen became in December private secretary to the Marquis of Ripon [q. V. Suppl. II], and continued to conduct the marquis's correspondence in England after 1880, when Lord Ripon went to India as viceroy. In the autumn of 1884 Pollen visited India, and after a brief archæological tour returned home with the viceroy in December 1884. A privately printed pamphlet entitled 'An Indian Farewell to the Marquis of Ripon' (1885) described his Indian experience. He thenceforth avowed himself an advanced liberal in both Indian and Irish politics, supporting the efforts of Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in Ireland and forming an intimacy with Gladstone.
Artistic pursuits however remained to the end his chief interest, and his services as a decorator continued in demand. In 1886 and 1887 he exhibited drawings at the Royal Academy and at the Paris Salon, and he prepared in 1880 a series of designs for St. George's Hall, Liverpool, which were not executed. He supported the newly founded United Arts and Crafts Guild, and was an exhibitor at the Guild's Exhibition at the New Gallery in October 1889. He died suddenly at 11 Pernbridge Crescent, North Kensington, on 2 Dec. 1902, and was buried in the family vault at Kensal Green cemetery. He married on 18 Sept. 1855 Maria Margaret, second daughter of John Charles La Primaudaye, of Huguenot descent, of St. John's College, Oxford, and Graff ham Rectory, by Ellen, sister of John Gellibrand Hubbard, first Lord Addington [q. v.], and had issue seven sons and three daughters. His widow published 'Seven Centuries of Lace' in 1908.
Pollen did much to reform taste in domestic furniture and decoration at home and abroad. He was an ardent sportsman and a member of the artists' corps of volunteers, formed in 1860. He was always active in catholic philanthropy. His most important publication was the 'Universal Catalogue of Books on Art' (2 vols. 1870; supplementary vol. 1877, 4to), which he prepared for South Kensington. Other official compilations were: 1. 'Ancient and Modern Furniture and Woodwork,' 1873; 2nd edit. 1875; revised edit, completed by T. A. Lehfeldt, 1908. 2. 'Catalogue of the Special Loan Exhibition of Enamels on Metals,' 1874. 3. 'A Description of the Trajan Column,' 1874. 4. 'Description of the Architecture and Monumental Sculptures,' 1874. 5. 'Ancient and Modern Gold and Silversmith's Work,' 1878. 6. ’A Catalogue of a Special Loan Collection of English Furniture and Figured Silk ' (Bethnal Green Branch), 1896. He also contributed chapters on furniture and woodwork to Stanford's series of 'British Manufacturing Industries' (1874; 2nd edit. 1877).
There is a pencil sketch of Pollen by Sir William Ross (1823), a painting in oils by Mrs. Carpenter (1838), and an etching by Alphonse Legros (1865), as well as a rough pen-and-ink sketch drawn by himself in 1862. Reproductions of these appear in the 'Life' (1912). A drawing of Mrs. Pollen was made by D. G. Rossetti in 1858.
[The Times, 5 Dec. 1902; Tablet, 6 Dec. 1902; John Hungerford Pollen, by Anne Pollen, 1912; Liddon's Life of Pusey, iii. 112-136, 355-368; Bryan's Diet, of Painters; Graves's Royal Acad. Exhibitors, 1906; private information from Sir George Birdwood.]