Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cross, John (1819-1861)

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CROSS, JOHN (1819–1861), painter, born at Tiverton in May 1819, was the son of the foreman of Mr. Heathcote's lace manufactory in that town. He showed great talent for art when quite young, but his father discouraged him, as he wished him to apply himself to mechanics. His father, however, removed with his family to St. Quentin in France, as superintendent of a branch manufactory in that town, and young Cross, though at first employed in the machinery department, was admitted, through the entreaties of his mother, to the art school founded by De Latour in that town. Here Cross made such progress that he moved to Paris and entered the studio of M. Picot, one of the painters of the old French classical school; here he gained several medals, and eventually became a director of the school. In 1843, when the competition was started for the decoration of the houses of parliament, Cross determined to enter the lists, and came to England, bringing a cartoon of ‘The Death of Thomas à Becket,’ which he had already exhibited in France. This he exhibited at Westminster Hall in 1844, but did not meet with success. He, however, applied himself with great vigour to the composition of a large oil-painting for the exhibition in 1847. This was called ‘The Clemency of Richard Cœur-de-Lion towards Bertrand de Gourdon,’ and gained a first premium of 300l.; it was purchased by the commissioners for 1,000l., and was engraved at the expense of the commission. This success advanced Cross in one bound to the foremost rank of the profession, but the labour and anxiety brought on a serious illness, from which he was a long time recovering. He henceforth devoted himself to historical painting, which was unfortunately a branch of art that met with little support, and required a stronger constitution to carry it on than Cross possessed. In 1850 he sent his first contribution to the Royal Academy—‘The Burial of the Young Princes in the Tower,’ followed by ‘Edward the Confessor leaving his Crown to Harold’ (1851), ‘The Assassination of Thomas à Becket’ (1853), ‘Lucy Preston imploring the Pardon of her Father of Queen Mary II’ (1856), and ‘William the Conqueror seizing the Crown of England’ (1859). His works, though of the highest class of art, remained unsold, and this told upon his health, which began to fail rapidly. With his health his powers also failed him, and the pictures contributed by him to the Royal Academy in 1860 were actually rejected. He tried teaching drawing and portrait-painting, and struggled on under the afflictions of disappointment, failure, and increasing illness. He died 27 Feb. 1861 in Gloucester Place, Regent's Park, aged 41, leaving his wife and family totally unprovided for. Several leading artists to whom Cross was personally endeared, and who had a high opinion of his abilities, started a subscription in order to purchase some of his unsold works and raise a fund for his wife and family. An exhibition of his principal works was held at the rooms of the Society of Arts in the Adelphi, and the subscription resulted in the purchase of ‘The Assassination of Thomas à Becket,’ which was placed in Canterbury Cathedral, and ‘The Burial of the Young Princes in the Tower,’ which was placed by his Devonshire friends in the Albert Memorial Museum at Exeter. The latter picture had been engraved by the Art Union in 1850.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Graves's Dict. of Artists, 1760–1880; Clement and Hutton's Artists of the Nineteenth Century; Art Journal, 1861; Illustrated London News, 10 March 1861; Builder, 16 March 1861; Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Literature and Science, xiii. 229; Royal Academy Catalogues, &c.]

L. C.