The Singing Lesson, a long-lost work by Arthur John Elsley, one of the most important British Victorian genre artists, recently surfaced. Elsley was born in London on November 20, 1860, to John and Emily Elsley. John was an amateur artist and exhibited a painting in 1845 at the British Institution. By the age of 11, Arthur was drawing images of dogs, chimps, giraffes, and other animals from his visit to the London Zoo in The Regent’s Park in 1874. He enrolled in the South Kensington School of Art that same year, which later became the Royal College of Art. Around that time, he contracted measles, which caused permanent damage to his eyesight.
In 1876, Elsley became a probationer at the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied there under Frederick Pickersgill (1820-1900), Edward Armitage (1817-1896), John Marshal (d.1896), and Henry Bowler (1824-1903). His first Royal Academy exhibit in 1878 entitled A Portrait of An Old Pony was the only one his father would see, as he died one month later. He continued studying at the Royal Academy Schools until about 1882, when he started to earn a living painting portraits of children and animals.
By 1886, Elsley was sharing a studio with George Manton, who, in turn, introduced him to Frederick Morgan – a successful genre painter. In 1889, Elsley and Manton parted ways, and he moved into Morgan’s studio. While Morgan was an excellent figure painter, he had trouble capturing animals, one of Elsley’s specialties. While the two collaborated on many works, only one painting, Ruff Play, c.1889 (which the gallery sold back in 1987), is signed by both artists.
In 1894, Charles Burton Barber, one of the leading British Victorian genre painters, passed away, and Elsley succeeded him as the foremost artist depicting children and pets. By the turn of the century, Elsley and Morgan had a falling out and went their separate ways. Around this time, he began producing more complex works on a grander scale. The Singing Lesson is an outstanding example from this period. Painted in 1909, it depicts two adorable young girls teaching their pet parrot to sing A Christmas Carol. In the upper left corner, the artist gives you a glimpse of the cold, snowy landscape outside.
By the beginning of the 1930s, his eyesight became so poor that he stopped painting. He passed away in 1952 at the age of 91.
Today, his works are in several museum collections, including the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth; Hartlepool Museum Services, Hartlepool; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool; The Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Liverpool; Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museum, Brighton, and Preston Manor, Brighton.