Arthur J. Elsley (1860 - 1952)
During the middle of the nineteenth century, genre paintings with domestic life subjects became popular in England. The new affluent middle class favored in particular genre paintings that depicted scenes of children with their pets in playful settings. Arthur John Elsley was one of the most popular English artists who depicted such childhood scenes in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. His works were so popular during his lifetime that many of his paintings were reproduced as prints, and were often used in calendars, advertisements, books and magazines.
Arthur John Elsley was born on November 20, 1860 in London, England. He was one of six children born to John Elsley and Emily née Freer. His father was a coachman, and an amateur artist, who had exhibited a painting, entitled A Group of Horses at the British Institution Exhibition in 1845. However, around 1872 John Elsley was afflicted with fibroid phthisis, which forced him to retire as a coachman and take the position of resident caretaker for a firm of stockbrokers in London.
“Mr. Elsley appears more distinctly as a follower, though not an imitator, of Mr. Burton Barber, differing from him by allowing his children more than a pet at a time, and going beyond the limitations of a fox-terrier, or a collie. He has a keen sense of humor, especially in his treatment of puppies’ backs, which, as students of dog-life well know, are their most expressive features.” (Parker, p. 10)
Around the turn of the century, Elsley and Morgan became permanently estranged when Morgan accused him of stealing one of his ideas. (Parker, p. 11) Elsley started to produce more “adventurous, multi-figured works on a grander scale.” (Parker, p.11) All his compositions and paintings were produced in his studio, where his child and canine models sat individually. Even the outdoors elements were incorporated from oil sketches of landscapes, which he made for pleasure, photographs, or from images of countryside panoramas in Country Life magazine. It was reported that this method of working in his studio may have accounted for “some of Elsley’s problems with perspective, not helped by his short-sightedness which sometimes caused him to use opera glasses in order to see his models!” (Parker, p. 11)
The First World War affected Elsley’s productivity. During that period, he worked part-time at a munitions factory, where he “filed the jigs used to test gun-sights in the making.” (Parker, p.11) As the work put additional strain on his eyes, he only painted four works from 1915 to 1917. Three were commercial works, and one was a portrait of his daughter Marjorie, which was not for sale but was still exhibited at the Royal Academy. In the years that followed, he continued to paint mostly for pleasure and exhibited some of his works until 1927. However, his eyesight continued to fail, and by 1931 it became so poor that he confined his activities to woodwork, metalwork and gardening. Arthur John Elsley died at his home on 19 February 1952, at the age of 91.
During his career, Arthur Elsley exhibited 52 works at the Royal Academy from 1878 until 1927, and many more at other major exhibition halls throughout England. These included: The Royal Society of British Artists, London; The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; The Institute of Painters in Oil Colors, London; French Gallery, London; Dudley Gallery, London; The Institute of Fine Art, Glasgow; Manchester City Art Gallery; The Royal Society of Artists, Birmingham; Nottingham, Castle Museum; Victoria Gallery, Bath; The Crystal Palace, London; Cork International Exhibition. Some examples of the commercial use of Elsley’s prints include: color calendars published by the American firm Thomas D. Murphy Co.; advertisement for Sunlight Soap; advertising show-cards for Old Calabar Dog & Puppy Biscuits, Brooks Sewing Cotton, and Peek, Frean & Co., Biscuits & Cakes; cover for the publication of Bibby’s Quarterly.
His works can be seen in several museums including the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, East Cliff, Bournemouth; Hartlepool Museum Services, Sir William Grey House, Clarence Road, Hartlepool; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool; The Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Alderhey, Eaton Road, Liverpool; Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museum, Brighton; Preston Manor, 194 Preston Road, Brighton.