Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Horsley, John Callcott
HORSLEY, JOHN CALLCOTT (1817–1903), painter, born in London on 29 Jan. 1817, was elder son of William Horsley [q. v.], the well-known composer of glees, by his wife Elizabeth Hutchins, daughter of John Wall Callcott [q. v.], musical com- poser, brother of Sir Augustus Wall Callcott [q. v.], the pamtcr. Horsloy had one brother and three sisters, one of whom married Isamlard Kingdom Brunei [q. v.]. He showed a bent towards pictorial art which still very young. His general education was obtained at a school on a site now filled by the Carmelite convent and church, Kensington, and his early training as an artist at Sass's academy in Bloomsbury. In due time ho became a student at the Royal Academy, where he won the gold medal in 'the antique.' Before he was twenty he earned the praise of Sir David Wilkie for an ambitious picture called 'Rent Day at Haddon Hall in the Sixteenth Century.' The first picture he exhibited was 'Rival Musicians,' but the first sent to the Royal Academy was 'The Pride of the Village' (1839), now in the Tate Gallery. While yet very young he was appointed headmaster to the figure class in the National School of Design in Somerset House. In 1843, in 1844, and again in 1847, he was successful in winning prizes in the competitions for employment in the decoration of the new houses of parliament, the result of which was the painting of two large wall-pictures, 'The Spirit of Religion' and 'Satan surprised at the Ear of Eve,' in the new palace. At Somerleyton he also painted two wall-pictures dealing with incidents in the youth of Alfred the Great. But large historical pictures were not to his taste, and his power of treating them was affected for the worse by his reluctance to go to the root of all knowledge of structure and movement, the study of the naked model. Against that study he headed an abortive agitation in 1885, when the spirit of the Paris Salon was, he thought, invading English art too boldly. A letter by him (signed H.) in 'The Times' (2 May 1885), following one from 'A British Matron' a day earlier, led to a long and animated newspaper controversy. Horsley's real preference was for domestic scenes, conceived somewhat in the style of Terborch and De Hooghe. Among the best of these are 'Malvolio practising Deportment to his own Shadow,' 'Attack and Defence,' 'Holy Communion,' 'The Lost Found,' 'The Gaoler's Daughter,' ' Negotiating a Loan,' 'Le Jour des Morts,' and two pictures commissioned by the Prince Consort, 'L'Allegro' and 'II Pensieroso.' His 'Healing Mercies of Christ ' forms the altarpiece in the chapel of St. Thomas's Hospital, London. He also painted a few portraits, the best known and most accessible being that of Martin Cofaiaghl, in the National Gallery. Although painted when both artist and sitter were very old men, this in some degree compensates by its vivacity and fidelity for its shortcomings as a work of art. Another of his portraits is that of the Princess Beatrice (Princess Henry of Battenberg) at the age of thirteen months.
Horsley was elected A.R.A. in 1866 and R.A. in 1856. He will be chiefly remembered at the Academy for the part he took in organising the epoch-making series of 'Old Masters' at Burlington House. From 1875 to 1890 he was the moving spirit of these exhibitions. He was indefatigable in searching for desirable pictures, and in persuading their owners to lend. For such duties he was remarkably well fitted, being at once extremely popular and yet quite ready with his 'no' when inadmissible claims were made on behalf of this or that 'masterpiece.' Horsley was treasurer of the Academy from 1882 to 1897, when he retired from the active list of academicians.
In 1858 Horsley bought a house at Cranbrook, Kent, commissioning the then unknown Mr. Norman Shaw to repair and add to it. There several of his more rustic pictures were painted.
Horsley inherited a lively interest in music and its professors. With many of the latter he was intimate, especially with Mendelssohn, who, when in London, was his frequent visitor. In early life he had suggested to his intimate friend, John Leech, many themes for his drawings in 'Punch.' He died on 18 Oct. 1903, in his eighty-seventh year, at the house in High Row, Kensington, which had been the property of his family for nearly a century, and was buried at Kensal Green. He was twice married : (1) in 1847 to Elvira Walter ; (2) in 1854 to Rosamund, daughter of Charles Haden, surgeon, of Derby and London, who survived him with three sons and two daughters. His sons are Walter Charles Horsley, painter. Sir Victor Horsley, the surgeon, and Gerald Horsley, architect. Of two portraits by his eldest son, Walter Charles Horsley, one painted in 1891 is in the possession of Horsley's widow; the other (c. 1898) is at the Roval Academy, Burhngton House. Before his death in 1903 there was published Horsley's 'Recollections of a Royal Academician' (edited by Mrs. Edmund Helps).
[Horsley's Recolloctions, 1903 ; The Times, 20 and 23 Oct. 1903 ; Cat. Nat. Gallery of British Art (Tate Gallery) ; Spielmann's Hist. of Punch; Graves' Roy. Ac. and Brit. Inst. Exhibitors ; personal knowledge.]