Open main menu

OLIPHANT, FRANCIS WILSON (1818–1859), painter and designer of stained glass, son of Thomas Oliphant, Edinburgh, of an ancient but fallen family in Fife, was born on 31 Aug. 1818 at Newcastle-on-Tyne, during the temporary residence of his parents there. He was trained as an artist at the Edinburgh Academy of Art. In early life the revival of Gothic style and ornament led him to make a profound study of ecclesiastical art, and while still very young he attained considerable reputation as a designer of painted glass in the works of Messrs. Wailes of Newcastle-on-Tyne. He afterwards removed to London, and worked much with Welby Pugin, especially upon the painted windows in the new Houses of Parliament. He also sent in a cartoon to the competition for the decoration of Westminster Hall, which was not successful. During this period Oliphant exhibited several pictures in the Royal Academy, the chief being a large Shakespearean study of the interview between Richard II and John of Gaunt, and a striking picture of the Prodigal Son ‘Nearing Home.’ In 1852 he married his cousin, Margaret Oliphant Wilson, who was beginning to be known as a writer, and since achieved a wide reputation in many departments of literature. His latter years were occupied with an energetic attempt to improve the art of painted glass by superintending the processes of execution as well as the design, in the course of which he produced the windows in the ante-chapel of King's College, Cambridge, those in the chancel of Aylesbury Church, and several in Ely Cathedral. The famous choristers' window at Ely was the joint work of Oliphant and William Dyce, R.A., the former being responsible for the original design. This work, however, was interrupted by ill-health, which obliged him to seek a warmer climate. He died at Rome in October 1859, chiefly from the effects of overwork. He had published in 1856 a small treatise entitled ‘A Plea for Painted Glass.’

Oliphant had two sons, both of whom died in early manhood after making some promising efforts in literature. The elder son, Cyril Francis Oliphant (1856–1890), who graduated B.A. at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1883, published in 1890, in the series known as ‘Foreign Classics,’ a biography and criticism of the work of Alfred de Musset, which was notable for some well-rendered translations from the French. The younger son, Francis Romano Oliphant (1859–1894), born at Rome after his father's death, graduated B.A. at Oxford in 1883. He issued in 1891 ‘Notes of a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land,’ which originally appeared in the form of letters addressed to the ‘Spectator.’ He was a frequent contributor to that and other periodicals, and largely aided his mother in the preparation of her ‘Victorian Age of Literature’ (1892).

[Private information.]