Calderon the artist


P. H. Calderon, Words of Love, 1863

Philip Hermogenes Calderon was fifty-one when Artists at Home was published. At that time he had been married to Clara Marianne for twenty-four years. Clara was the sister of G. A. Storey, another artist featured in the Mayall series. The couple had two daughters and six sons. William Francis was born in 1865 and became a painter specializing in animal subjects, George Leslie was born in 1868 and became a playwright, and Alfred Merigon was born in 1861 and became an architect, who remodeled the grand home of Alma Tadema in their shared neighborhood, St. John’s Wood. Philip Calderon was well-established in the Victorian arts scene as a member of the Royal Academy since 1867, an honor bestowed upon him just three years after being named an associate. He exhibited at up-and-coming galleries in London in addition to showing at the Royal Academy, and he received international acclaim for his history paintings. The greatest advance in his career followed his marriage to Clara, when he exhibited Her Most High, Noble and Puissant Grace, which earned him a gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition. He was also honored with a medal in Vienna and soon after became a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

Philip Calderon’s father, a professor of Spanish literature at King’s College, died in 1854 when Philip was twenty. This left Philip the main provider for his family. In the succeeding years he produced a high volume of paintings, mostly commissioned portraits. He had been fond of drawing from a young age and studied under James Leigh in Newman Street before moving to Paris to study with Monsieur François-Edouard Picot for a year. It was in Paris that he was made to draw, not just paint, from life, and that he honed the technique that would earn him a comparison with Velázquez.[1] In Leigh’s studio he befriended Henry Stacy Marks, a future member of the St. John’s Wood Clique, which lived by the motto, coined by Calderon, “The better each man’s picture, the better for all.”[2] Calderon had a large circle of friends, whom he entertained by singing when the artists of St. John’s Wood convened, earning him the nickname “the Fiend.”[3]

Calderon painted military and history subjects, such as By the Waters of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept and The British Embassy in Paris on the Night of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. However, his charming scenes of love and romance, which marked him as a “painter of true knighthood no less than of true womanhood and childhood,” according to a contemporary critic, Wilfred Meynell, won him admission to the Royal Academy with the especially well-received Drink to me only with Thine Eyes.[4] Three years after the Mayall series was published, Calderon was appointed keeper of the Royal Academy, a responsibility he took very seriously during the last eleven years of his life.

Anna Mahony

[1] Wilfred Meynell, The Modern School of Art (London: Cassell, 1886), 3: 220. 

[2] A. R. Pennie, "Marks, Henry Stacy (1829–1898)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2014 []

[3] David Cast, “Calderon, Philip Hermogenes (1833–1898),”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004,

[4] Meynell, Modern School of Art, 216.