Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chalon, Alfred Edward

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CHALON, ALFRED EDWARD (1780–1860), portrait and subject painter, younger brother of John James Chalon [q. v.], was born at Geneva on 15 Feb. 1780. He was intended, like his brother, for a commercial life; but he took early to art, and entered the Academy schools in 1797. In 1808 he became a member of the Society of Associated Artists in Water Colours. In the same year he founded, with his brother John and six others, the ‘Evening Sketching Society,’ the meetings of which were continued for forty years, and of which a full account will be found in the ‘Recollections of T. Ewins,’ and in the ‘Recollections and Letters of C. R. Leslie.’ He exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy in 1810. In 1812 he was elected associate of that body, and became a full member in 1816. ‘He then and for many years afterwards was the most fashionable portrait painter in water colours. His full-length portraits in this manner, usually about fifteen inches high, were full of character, painted with a dashing grace, and never commonplace; the draperies and accessories drawn with great spirit and elegance.’ In his younger days he painted some good miniatures on ivory. Chalon was the first to paint Queen Victoria after her accession to the throne, and received the appointment of painter in water colours to the queen. As a portrait painter in this medium he had an extraordinary and almost unparalleled vogue; but he survived his fame. In 1855, the year following his brother's death, he exhibited, at the rooms of the Society of Arts in the Adelphi, a collection of his own and of John Chalon's works, but it does not seem to have attracted much attention. Leslie, his friend and warm admirer, writes: ‘It was to me a proof, if I had wanted one, of the non-appreciation of colour at the present time that the exhibition of J. and A. Chalon's pictures failed to attract notice.’ If water colours were the medium best suited to his genius, Chalon nevertheless painted a vast number of works in oils, having exhibited altogether upwards of three hundred oil paintings at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in the course of his life. Among his best-known subject pictures may be mentioned ‘Hunt the Slipper,’ 1831; ‘John Knox reproving the Ladies of Queen Mary's Court,’ 1837; ‘Serena,’ 1847; ‘Sophia Western,’ 1857. He was clever in imitating the styles of other painters, and particularly of Watteau, whose pictures he greatly admired.

Chalon had made a large collection of his own and his brother's drawings and paintings. In 1859 he offered them to the inhabitants of Hampstead, together with some endowments for the maintenance of the collection; but the scheme fell through. He then offered them to the nation, with a similarly unsatisfactory result. Late in life he retired with his brother to an old house on Campden Hill, Kensington, and there died, 3 Oct. 1860. His numerous friends bore unanimous testimony to the delightful social qualities of the man, and were ungrudging in their recognition of his genius.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Painters; Ottley's Supplement to Bryan's Dict. of Painters; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Athenæum, June to December 1860, pp. 487, 756, 792; Art Journal, 1860, p. 337, 1862, p. 9, an article upon A. E. Chalon by James Dafforne; Autobiographical Recollections of C. R. Leslie, ed. Tom Taylor, 2 vols. passim; Recollections of T. Ewins, 2 vols. 1853, passim.]

E. R.