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Biography of John Callcott Horsley

John Callcott Horsley was a British painter, illustrator and, designer. He is famous for creating the “Christmas Card”. He was born in London, on 29th January 1817.

Early Life of John Callcott Horsley

John Callcott Horsely was the son of famous musician William Horsley and grand nephew of Sir Augustus Callcott. Before he went to any formal institution he studied under William Mulready and Augustus Wall Callcott. They then sent him to Dr. Henry Sass’s academy at the age of thirteen. He then studied painting at the Royal Academy where he came in touch with Thomas Webster.


Achievements of John Callcott Horsley

Horsley’s painting was mostly historical subjects. He was influenced by the Dutch masters Pieter De Hooch and Vermeer of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He painted “Malvolio”, “L’Allegro il Penseroso” (this he painted for the Prince Consort), “Le Jour des Morts” and,“ A Scene from Don Quixote”.

When Horsley was a young artist, collector John Sheepshanks had purchased two paintings’ Rival Performers’ and ‘Youth and Age’.

In the year 1843, he had created a cartoon named “St Augustine Preaching”, and it had won the prize from which he got to decorate the interiors of Palace of Westminster. He was one of the six painters to get selected in 1844 to execute frescoes in the Palace. In the House of Lords he had painted the “Religion”, “Henry V. Assuming the crown” and “Satan touched by Ithuriel’s Spear while whispering dreams to Eve.”

In 1864, he became a Royal Academician. He used to organize the winter exhibitions of “Old Masters” at Burlington House. Horsley was the reactor and treasurer of the Royal Academy from 1875 to 1897. He strongly opposed the models, who let them get painted in a nude manner and he earned the nickname “Clothes-Horsley.”

In the year 1843, he had designed the very first Christmas card which was commissioned by Henry Cole in London. It had become the most popular card in the Victorian Era. The card had received criticism too because it showed a child drinking wine.

Christmas Card created by John Callcott Horsley
Christmas Card created by John Callcott Horsley

In the year 1856, Horsley was invited to get photographed at “The Photographed Institute” as a part of a series which they were creating about the fine artists. The photograph was taken by Robert Howlett and the picture was exhibited at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857.

Horsley was a member of the London based Etching club and had contributed illustrations to editions of “The Deserted Village”.

Some of his famous paintings are:

  • “Winning the Game” in the year 1839
  • “Pride of the Village” in the year 1839 and is now present 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
  • “A Scene from Don Quixote” in 1855
  • “Showing a Preference” in 1860
  • “The Morning of St. Valentine” in the year 1863
  • “ A Pleasant Corner” in 1865
  • “The Gaoler’s Daughter” in 1869
  • “Negotiating a loan” and also “Old Folk and Young Folk” in 1870
  • “Mary, Queen of Scots in Captivity” in 1871
  • “Stolen Graces” in the year 1873
  • “Sunny Effects” and “The Healing Mercies of Christ” in the year 1874
  • “A Page in Waiting” and “A Waiting Maid” in the year 1875
  • “Coming Down to Dinner” in 1876
  • “Under Lock and Key in 1876
  • “The World Forgetting “ and “Critics on Costume—Fashion and Change” in 1877
  • “Cupboard Love” and “The Salute” in 1878.


Death of John Callcott Horsley

Horsley died in London in the year 18th October in 1903.

The legacy of John Callcott Horsley

His paintings are still famous today and some are exhibited in the National Gallery in London. His son Sir Victor Horsley was a very famous surgeon and practiced neuropathology.

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