In the middle of the 19th Century there grew an appreciation in England for paintings depicting everyday family life.The new affluent middle class was particularly interested in scenes of adorable little children and their pets in playful settings.Arthur John Elsley, was one of the most well known and sensitive of these artists.His portraits of sweet, sometimes mischievous, children and pets are irresistible.
Elsley was born in London on November 20, 1861 and was the son of John and Emily Elsley. His father dabbled in art and even exhibited a work at the British Institution in 1845.
Arthur’s earliest known work was a portrait sketch of a little dog, entitled Vic (1871).At the age of 14 he entered the South Kensington School of Art.In 1876 at the young age of sixteen, Elsley became a probationer at the Royal Academy School and only two years later exhibited his first painting of a pony.His father died that same year and Arthur, the eldest son, took over as head of his family.
Although he was born in London, and lived there for most of his life, Elsley preferred the countryside.Even in the days when cycling was a rarity, he thought nothing of pedaling fifty miles out of the city in search of suitable material.
By 1887 Arthur was sharing a studio with George Manton (a portrait painter) and it as through Manton that Arthur met Fred Morgan.In 1889 Elsley shared Morgan’s studio in St. John’s Wood.This was a great help to Morgan as he had trouble painting animals – now Elsley could fill the gap.
In 1891 Elsley won a sliver medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition and in 1893 he married Emily Fusedale (his second cousin).Their wedding took place on November 11th at St. Thomas’s Parish Church and they rented a home in St. John’s Wood.
Arthur and Emma had one child, Marjorie, who was born on August 24, 1903. The birth of his daughter saw the beginning of a highly successful period of children and animal paintings – many featuring Marjorie.Many of these paintings were reproduced as prints and they sold so well that the copper plates actually wore out and had to be re-made.It is said that people would literally line up to see and buy his original works.
Elsley was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy; showing many works from 1878 – 1917 including: A Stitch in Time (1887); I’se Biggest!(1892);Wait a Minute! (1894) and Good Night! (1915).Elsley also exhibited his works at many of the other major exhibition halls throughout Great Britain, including: Royal Society of Artists, Birmingham; Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts; Walker Art Gallery; Manchester City Art Gallery; Royal Society of British Artists; and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.