John Callcott Horsley

(29 January 1817 - 18 October 1903)

English painter, son of William Horsley, the musician, and grand-nephew of Sir Augustus Callcott, was born in London, on the 29th of January 1817. He studied painting in the Academy schools, and in 1836, exhibited "The Pride of the Village" (Vernon Gallery) at the Royal Academy. This was followed by numerous genre pictures at subsequent exhibitions up to 1893, the best known of these being "Malvolio, L'Allegro" and "il Penseroso" (painted for the Prince Consort), "Le Jour des Morts, A Scene from Don Quixote", etc. In 1843, his cartoon of "St Augustine Preaching" won a prize in the Westminster Hall competition, and in 1844, he was selected as one of the six painters commissioned to execute frescoes for the Houses of Parliament, his "Religion" (1845) being put in the House of Lords; he also painted the "Henry V. assuming the Crown" and "Satan surprised at the Ear of Eve". In 1864, he became R.A., and in 1882 was elected treasurer, a post which he held till 1897, when he resigned and became a "retired Academician." Mr. Horsley had much to do with organizing the winter exhibitions of "Old Masters" at Burlington House after 1870. When, during the 'eighties, the example of the French Salon began to affect the Academy exhibitors, and paintings of the nude became the fashion, he protested against the innovation, and his attitude caused Punch to give him the punning sobriquet of "Mr J. C(lothes) Horsley." He died on the 18th of October 1903, in London. His son, Sir Victor Horsley (b. 1857), became famous as a surgeon and neuropathologist, and a prominent supporter of the cause of experimental research.

Queen Victoria with her children


John Callcott Horsley, R. A. Entered the Royal Academy schools in 1831. Was one of the head masters of the School of Design of Somerset House; received several money prizes for his cartoons exhibited at Westminster Hall in 1843, and later. He executed "The Spirit of Prayer" in the House of Lords, and "Satan touched by Ithuiiel's Spear" in the Poets' Hall of the new Houses of Parliament.

Among his early works are,
"Winning the Game," in 1839,
"Pride of the Village," in 1839, in the Vernon Collection, is now in the National Gallery, London.
"Waiting for an Answer," in 1841,
"Malvolio in the Sun," in 1849,
"Lady Jane Grey and Roger Ascham," in 1853, and
"A Scene from Don Quixote," in 1855, when he was elected associate of the Academy.
"Showing a Preference," he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860,
"The Morning of St. Valentine," in 1863,
"A Pleasant Corner," in 1865, (his diploma work on his election as Academician),
"The Gaoler's Daughter," in 1869,
"Negotiating a Loan" and "Old Folk and Young Folk," in 1870,
"Mary, Queen of Scots in Captivity," in 1871,
"Stolen Glances," in 1873,
"Sunny Effects" and "The Healing Mercies of Christ", in 1874,
"A Page in Waiting" and "A Waiting-Maid," in 1875,
"Coming down to Dinner" and "Under Lock and Key," in 1876,
"The World Forgetting" and "Critics on Costume -- Fashions Change," in 1877,
"Cupboard Love" "The Salute," and several portraits, in 1878.

" 'Stolen Glances,' by Horsley, although a common incident, is open to many interpretations. Here a company of cavaliers are assembled in front of a window where three young ladies are criticising the young men outside. The purpose of the painter is plainly set forth. There is much power and good work in the picture, which perhaps will be considered thrown away on a subject so commonplace." -- Art Journal, June, 1873.

"Mr. Horsley has etched a few really good things amongst others not so good. His touch is often free and right, and his still-life is usually admirable. When he spoils a plate, which he has done occasionally, it is from overwork in hatching." -- Hamerton's Etching and Etchers. Artists of the Nineteenth Century, Work & Biographical Sketches, Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.

In his Recollections Horsley states that a visitor to his studio summed up the charm of his work as "‘Sunshine and pretty women" and these are undeniably the focus of the present work. Two languid beauties of the 1880s are caught in a shaft of light as they inspect a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I., herself a great beauty in her time. As with all of Horsley's paintings, the viewer is led into a tight psychological narrative, with application beyond the period he has evoked. In this case the point of the parasol and the lady's gesture with her fingers show that the women are contrasting the Queen's stiff, jeweled stomacher and tiny waist with their own more soft and flowing costume. Just visible through the door behind the dealer is a further beauty of the Court of King Charles II., whose décolletage gives a hint of yet more unconstrained times still. Critics on Costume -- version of which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in the previous year -- make a particularly sharp comment as women's corsets were just beginning to tighten again at this date, and the fashion plates of the 1880s would make the women's blithe incredulity less comfortable still. div

Born Brompton, 29 January 1817, the son of the organist and composer William Horsley, and great-nephew of Sir Augustus Wall Callcott R.A. Studied at Sass's art school and the Royal Academy Schools. Painted portraits, literary and historical subjects, domestic genre (often in historical costume), and rural genre scenes. Exhibited 121 works at the R.A. between 1839 and 1896, and 11 at the B.I. 1837-50. Elected A.R.A. 1855, R.A. 1864. Won prizes in the competitions for the decoration of the Palace of Westminster 1843, 1844 and 1847. Some of his works were engraved; he also contributed etchings to the publications of the Etching Club and drawings to Punch, and in 1843, designed the first Christmas card. Associated with the artist's colony at Cranbrook, Kent, where he bought a house in 1858. At the R.A., he was Rector 1875-90 (his campaign against the use of naked models in life classes earned him the soubriquet 'Clothes-Horsley'), Treasurer 1882-97, and initiator and organiser of the first Winter Exhibitions of old masters. Died Kensington, 18 October 1903. The painter Walter Charles and architect Gerald Callcott were his sons.

LIT: Art Journal, 1857, pp181-4; Illustrated London News, 24 October 1903, p608 (obit with photograph); J. C. Horsley Recollections of a Royal Academican, 1903 (referred to as Recollections); A. Greg The Cranbrook Colony exhibition catalogue, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 1977


John Callcott Horsley RA (29 January 1817 – 18 October 1903), was an English Academic painter of genre and historical scenes, illustrator, and designer of the first Christmas card. He was a member of the artist's colony in Cranbrook.

Horsley was born in London, the son of William Horsley, the musician, and grand-nephew of Sir Augustus Callcott. His sister, Mary Elizabeth Horsley wed the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1836. Horsley was mentored by William Mulready and Augustus Wall Callcot who sent him at age thirteen to study at Dr. Henry Sass's academy where he met D.G Rossetti, J. Millais and W.P. Frith; in his biography Horsley recalls Dr. Sass as being vain and untalented. Following preparatory school Horsley studied painting at the Royal Academy schools where he met Thomas Webster. In 1839 he exhibited The Pride of the Village (Vernon Gallery) at the Royal Academy.

Horsley married Elvira Walter in 1846, with whom he had three sons: Edward (1848), Frank (1849), and Harry (1850). Elvira died of consumption in 1852, followed by the deaths of Edward and Harry in 1854, and Frank in 1857, due to scarlet fever. Horsley remarried to Rosamund Haden who came from a family of distinguished surgeons -- her father Charles Haden had a practice in Sloan Street and her brother, Francis Seymour Haden was a surgeon and etcher who founded the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers in 1880. Rosamund gave birth to Walter (1855), Hugh (1856), and Victor (1857). Gerald grew up to be an architect, Walter an artist also studying at the R.A. Schools, and Victor a surgeon. Sir Victor Horsley (born 1857), became famous as a surgeon and neuropathologist, and a prominent supporter of the cause of experimental research. Horsley and Rosamund had four more children: Emma (1858), Fanny (1862), Gerald (1862) and Rosamund (1864), losing Hugh and Emma to scarlet fever.

After his wedding to Rosamund in 1854 Horsley and his new wife toured the Midlands for five months to establish contacts with wealthy industrialists for portrait commissions. Horsley moved into 'Willesley', his house in Cranbrook in 1861, joining the Cranbrook Colony; whilst maintaining a home in London. The architect Richard Shaw adds "...tall chimneys and cosy 'inglenooks.'" in the Jacobean style to 'Willesley'.

Horsley's paintings were largely of historical subjects set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, influenced by the Dutch masters Pieter de Hooch and Vermeer. Examples are "Malvolio", "L'Allegro and il Penseroso" (painted for the Prince Consort), "Le Jour des Morts" and "A Scene from Don Quixote".

As a young artist Horsley was patronised by the collector John Sheepshanks, who buys two of Horsley's paintings: ''The Rival Performers (1839), and ''Youth and Age (1839); both of which are now part of the V&A collection.

In 1843, his cartoon (preliminary drawing) of "St Augustine Preaching" won a prize in the competition to provide interior decorations for Palace of Westminster. This led to his being selected in 1844, he was as one of the six painters commissioned to execute frescoes there. He painted "Religion" (1845) in the House of Lords, "Henry V. assuming the Crown" and "Satan touched by Ithuriel's Spear while whispering evil dreams to Eve". In 1864 he became a Royal Academician (R.A.). Horsley had much to do with organizing the winter exhibitions of "Old Masters" at Burlington House after 1870.

Horsley was rector and treasurer of the Royal Academy from 1875 to 1890 and 1882 to 1897, respectively. He earned the nickname 'Clothes-Horsley' for his opposition to the use of nude life models. When, during the 1880s, the example of the French Salon began to affect the Academy exhibitors, and paintings of the nude became the fashion, he protested against the innovation, and his attitude caused Punch to give him the sobriquet of "Mr J. C(lothes) Horsley" (a pun on clothes horse). H e resigned from the academy in 1897, and became a "retired Academician".

Horsley designe the first ever Christmas card, commissioned by Henry Cole. It caused some controversy because it depicted a small child drinking wine. He also designed the Horsley envelope, a pre-paid envelope that was the precursor to the postage stamp.

First Known Christmas Card

In 1856, Horsley was photographed at "The Photographed Institute" by Robert Howlett, as part of a series of portraits of "fine artists". The picture was among a group exhibited at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857.

Horsley was a member of the London-based Etching Club contributing illustrations to editions of "The Deserted Village" (Oliver Goldsmith and "Songs of Shakespeare". He also illustrated a number of other books including Little Princes, by Eliza Slater (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1890).Encyclopædia Britannica; Wikipedia; Horsley, J. C., Recollections of a Royal Academician (London: J. Murray, 1903); Robert Howlett, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Birth: Jan. 29, 1817, England
Death: Oct. 18, 1903, England
John Horsley created the Worlds first Christmas Card. Though cards with religeous themes made of wood carvings can be traced back decades or centuries earlier, the first commercialized Christmas Card got started with his initial holiday spirit. The card simply stated, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you . His friend Sir Henry Cole suggested to him the idea and requested for John to design the card, who also was a known creative painter. John Horsley was born in London, England. He was an accomplished English Painter, the son of William Horsley, a notable Musician and the Grand Nephew of Sir Augustus Callcott. He studied painting in the Academy Schools and in 1836, exhibited a portrait of "The Pride of the Village," which is displayed in the Vernon Gallery at the Royal Academy. In 1843 his cartoon of "St. Augustine Preaching," won a prize in the Westminister Hall Competition, and in 1844, he was one of six selected painters commissioned to execute frescoes for the House of Parliament. And from 1882 to 1897 he became the Royal Academy Treasurer. His most lasting influence was the first designed Christmas Card which he created in 1843. It was a lithograph edition, only 1,000 was made for Sir Henry Cole. John Horsley's son, Sir Victor Horsley, became a famous Surgeon and Neuropathologist, who also supported experimental research. The original Christmas Card was printed out by Jobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, London, hand-colored by a professional named Mason. It had been lithographed on stiff cardboard in dark serpia. Copies of the original were created in 1955 and can still be found today. But the Originals are considered very rare and worth a small fortune. He died in London, England at the age of 86.
Burial: Kensal Green Cemetery, Kensal Green, London Borough of Brent, Greater London, England
© Copyright Ownership: Maintained by: Find A Grave Memorial.

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