Gilbert, John


Gilbert, John

Date Created

Gilbert, John (1817-1897), English painter, illustrator, and engraver


Omeka record contributed by Gabriella Meier


Gilbert, John

Date Submitted

December 30, 2016

Birth Date

July 21, 1817


Blackheath, London

Death Date

October 5, 1897


Painter, Illustrator, Engraver

Biographical summary

Sir John Gilbert was born on July 21, 1817, in Blackheath, London. His father, George Felix Gilbert, had been a captain in the Royal East London Militia; after his time in the military, he worked as a land and estate agent. His son John left school in 1833 to work for the real estate firm of Dickson & Bell but spent much of his time sketching rather than focusing on real estate transactions. After two years of working at the firm, his parents let him follow his passions, and Gilbert devoted himself to learning every artistic technique: painting in oils, watercolors, fresco, modeling, carving, drawing on paper, wood, and stone, engraving and etching. For all of these art techniques, Gilbert was mainly self-taught. He did not go to art school and had no instruction except some lessons on the use of color from George Lance, a painter of fruit. In 1836, Gilbert made his first appearance as an exhibitor with two drawings of historical subjects in Suffolk Street, and in 1837 he sent two oil paintings to the British Institution. For many years, he contributed frequently to both of these exhibitions. Some of the most important of his pictures in oils exhibited at the British Institution were Brunetta and Phillis (1844), King Henry VIII (1845), and The Charge of Prince Rupert’s Cavalry (1849.) A portrait exhibited in 1838 was his first contribution to the Royal Academy. After 1851, he exhibited no more pictures at the Royal Academy until 1867. On February 9, 1852, Gilbert was elected an associate, and on June 12, 1854, he became a full member. He remained connected to that institution until his death. He exhibited approximately 270 works in the society's gallery, including numerous works focusing on themes from Don Quixote and Shakespeare. In addition, he was instrumental in the inauguration of regular winter exhibitions there in 1862, and in June 1871 was elected its president. Gilbert’s black and white work for book illustrations and pictorial journalism generated the most amount of revenue. The well-known collector John Sheepshanks encouraged Gilbert to learn more about drawing on wood. Gilbert began in 1838 illustrating a book of nursery rhymes. Given his great aptitude for illustration, he devoted most of his time to this branch of art. He illustrated the works of most English poets, some religious compositions, novels and tales, as well as books of ballads and other anthologies. The most famous of all of his illustrations are those which he designed for Howard Staunton’s edition of Shakespeare, published by Routledge in monthly parts beginning in December 1856. Gilbert, who resumed his contributions to the Royal Academy exhibitions in 1867, was elected an associate of the Academy on January 29, 1872. Soon thereafter, on March 14,1872, Gilbert was knighted, which both honored his own achievements in painting, engraving, and watercolor and indicated royal recognition of watercolor's importance as a branch of art. Gilbert died on October 5, 1897, a bachelor, at his home, Ivy House, Vanbrugh Park, in Blackheath, London, where he lived his entire life.


M. H. Spielmann, "Sir John Gilbert: a memorial sketch," Magazine of Art, 22 (1897–98), 53–64.
R. Davies, "Sir John Gilbert," Old Water-Colour Society's Club 10 (1932–3), 20–43
"Sir John Gilbert's gift to the City of London," Art Journal, new ser., 13 (1893), 199–200
R. Ormond, "Victorian story-teller in paint: Sir John Gilbert," Country Life, 140 (1966), 400–03
R. Ormond, "Private life of a Victorian painter," Country Life 140 (1966), 462–65




Omeka record contributed by Gabriella Meier, Gilbert, John

Cite As

Omeka record contributed by Gabriella Meier, “Gilbert, John,” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed December 1, 2023,

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