The Head of the Procession

WAG 1346


John Gilbert (1817 - 1897) was born in Blackheath, Surrey and initially apprenticed to a firm of estate agents but taught himself art by copying prints. Gilbert’s career as an artist began in the late 1830s, when he worked principally as an illustrator. In this capacity he was immensely prolific, producing designs for woodblock engravings for many contemporary novels and contributing many thousands of illustrations for the Illustrated London News from the time of its founding in 1842. Despite being largely self-taught he mastered a variety of techniques including drawing, watercolours and oils. Paintings by Gilbert of literary and romantic scenes appealed greatly to Victorian taste. As an illustrator to literary texts, Gilbert is principally remembered for his designs for Longfellow’s Poetical Works (1854, 1855) and for an illustrated complete works of Shakespeare (1856–58). His career as a watercolourist is closely associated with the Old Water-Colour Society, of which association he was a stalwart. He was elected an associate in 1852 and a member in 1854. In 1873 he was elected president of the Society, in 1881 obtaining permission for it to be styled the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours. He was represented in its summer exhibitions every year from 1852 until his death, and most years at the winter exhibitions intended for sketches and more informal works, which were instituted in 1862. On occasions he made oil and watercolour versions of the same subject.