1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gilbert, Sir John

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GILBERT, SIR JOHN (1817–1897), English painter and illustrator, one of the eight children of George Felix Gilbert, a member of a Derbyshire family, was born at Blackheath on the 21st of July 1817. He went to school there, and even in childhood displayed an extraordinary fondness for drawing and painting. Nevertheless, his father’s lack of means compelled him to accept employment for the boy in the office of Messrs Dickson & Bell, estate agents, in Charlotte Row, London. Yielding, however, to his natural bent, his parents agreed that he should take up his art in his own way, which included but little advice from others, his only teacher being Haydon’s pupil, George Lance, the fruit painter. This artist gave him brief instruction in the use of colour. In 1836 Gilbert appeared in public for the first time. This was at the gallery of the Society of British Artists, where he sent drawings, the subjects of which were characteristic, being “The Arrest of Lord Hastings,” from Shakespeare, and “Abbot Boniface,” from The Monastery of Scott. “Inez de Castro” was in the same gallery in the next year; it was the first of a long series of works in the same medium, representing similar themes, and was accompanied, from 1837, by a still greater number of works in oil which were exhibited at the British Institution. These included “Don Quixote giving advice to Sancha Panza,” 1841; “Brunette and Phillis,” from The Spectator, 1844; “The King’s Artillery at Marston Moor,” 1860; and “Don Quixote comes back for the last time to his Home and Family,” 1867. In that year the Institution was finally closed. Gilbert exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1838, beginning with the “Portrait of a Gentleman,” and continuing, except between 1851 and 1867, till his death to exhibit there many of his best and more ambitious works. These included such capital instances as “Holbein painting the Portrait of Anne Boleyn,” “Don Quixote’s first Interview with the Duke and Duchess,” 1842, “Charlemagne visiting the Schools,” 1846. “Touchstone and the Shepherd,” and “Rembrandt,” a very fine piece, were both there in 1867; and in 1873 “Naseby,” one of his finest and most picturesque designs, was also at the Royal Academy. Gilbert was elected A.R.A. 29th January 1872, and R.A. 29th June 1876. Besides these mostly large and powerful works, the artist’s true arena of display was undoubtedly the gallery of the Old Water Colour Society, to which from 1852, when he was elected an Associate exhibitor, till he died forty-five years, he contributed not fewer than 270 drawings, most of them admirable because of the largeness of their style, massive coloration, broad chiaroscuro, and the surpassing vigour of their designs. These qualities induced the leading critics to claim for his opportunities for painting mural pictures of great historical themes as decorations of national buildings. “The Trumpeter,” “The Standard-Bearer,” “Richard II. resigning his Crown” (now at Liverpool), “The Drug Bazaar at Constantinople,” “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Turkish Water-Carrier” are but examples of that wealth of art which added to the attractions of the gallery in Pall Mall. There Gilbert was elected a full Member in 1855, and president of the Society in 1871, shortly after which he was knighted. As an illustrator of books, magazines and periodicals of every kind he was most prolific. To the success of the Illustrated London News his designs lent powerful aid, and he was eminently serviceable in illustrating the Shakespeare of Mr Howard Staunton. He died on the 6th of October 1897. (F. G. S.)