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John Callcott Horsley
St. Valentine’s Day by Horsley

John Callcott Horsley (29 January 1817  – 18 October 1903), was an English Academic painter who is also renowned as the designer of the first Christmas card.



Horsley was born in London in 1817. He was the son of William Horsley, the musician, and grand-nephew of Sir Augustus Callcott.

His sister Mary Elizabeth Horsley wed the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1836.

His son, Sir Victor Horsley (born 1857), became famous as a surgeon and neuropathologist, and a prominent supporter of the cause of experimental research.


Horsley studied painting in the Academy schools, and in 1836 exhibited "The Pride of the Village" (Vernon Gallery) at the Royal Academy. This was followed by numerous genre pictures at subsequent exhibitions up to 1893, the best known of these being "Malvolio", "L'Allegro and il Penseroso" (painted for the Prince Consort), "Le Jour des Morts" and "A Scene from Don Quixote".

In 1843 his cartoon of "St Augustine Preaching" won a prize in the Westminster Hall competition, and in 1844 he was selected as one of the six painters commissioned to execute frescoes for the Houses of Parliament, his "Religion" (1845) being put in the House of Lords; he also painted the "Henry V assuming the Crown" and "Satan surprised at the Ear of Eve". In 1864 he became RA, and in 1882 was elected treasurer, a post which he held until 1897, when he resigned and became a "retired Academician".

The world's first Christmas card, made by John Callcott Horsley

Horsley designed the first ever Christmas card, commissioned by Henry Cole. It caused some controversy because it depicted a small child drinking wine. He also designed the Horsley envelope, a pre-paid envelope that was the precursor to the postage stamp.

Horsley had much to do with organizing the winter exhibitions of "Old Masters" at Burlington House after 1870. When, during the 1880s, the example of the French Salon began to affect the Academy exhibitors, and paintings of the nude became the fashion, he protested against the innovation, and his attitude caused Punch to give him the sobriquet of "Mr J. C(lothes) Horsley", a pun on clothes horse.

Horsley was a member of the Cranbrook Colony.

In 1856 Horsley was photographed at "The Photographed Institute" by Robert Howlett, as part of a series of portraits of "fine artists". The picture was among a group exhibited at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857.[1]


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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