The following excerpt from artist and critic F. G. Stephens's A Century of British Art has been transcribed and formatted for this website by Jacqueline Banerjee, who has also illustrated it and added links. Page numbers are given in square brackets. Please click on all the images for more infornation about them, and to see larger versions of them, and details of how they can be reused.

Portrait of Callcott from an oil painting by John Linnell, facing Story 267.

[Augustus Wall Callcott] was born at Kensington Gravel Pits, on the 20th of February, 1779. His elder brother being John Wall Callcott, the eminent Doctor of Music, of a family long settled in that region and at Brompton, and our artist having in very early youth a good voice and ear, it was determined that he should become a musician. The first step in this direction was to enter him as a singing boy in the choir of Westminster Abbey, where his brother John Wall had preceded him, and where for some time, and until his voice broke, he remained under Dr. Cooke. It will be remembered that a few years after this the late Mr. Webster, R.A., was attached to the choir of the Chapel Royal, St. James's. William Hutchins Callcott (son of John Wall Callcott, and nephew of the [127/28] painter), who died in 1882, was a composer of distinction, and a member of a family with which William Horsley, another musician, and his son, Mr. John Callcott Horsley, R. A., are closely allied. It seems that the determination to make a musician of A. W. Callcott was arrived at on account of his family connections, and notwithstanding that he had, even in childhood, manifested a considerable facility in drawing landscapes and heads. It is said that his resolution to become a painter was confirmed by his great admiration for Stothard's designs to Robinson Crusoe. Leaving the Abbey choir, he became a Student in the Royal Academy in 1797, and soon after entered, as a pupil, the studio of John Hoppner, R.A., [Sir Henry] Lawrence's rival, and one of the most brilliant portrait painters of the English School. Hoppner himself had belonged to the choir of the Chapel Royal. In his twenty-first year, and while still living with his father, Callcott made his debut at the Academy in 1799.

An Extensive View of Oxford from Elsfield (1800). Photo Credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. Source: Art UK.

In 1801 he set up for himself in Leicester Square, and, with two portraits, exhibited his first landscape, A View of Oxford. At this period, and for some years later, he continued to practise both branches of the art which are thus indicated, and contributed examples of each to the public galleries, including A Heath, with Peasants, which was at the first exhibition of the British Institution in 1806. His landscapes took the fancy of amateurs by their brightness, clear pencilling, and simplicity; but students, such as Leslie [probably Charles Robert Leslie RA (19 October 1794–5 May 1859)], complained strongly that even Constable was overlooked in favour of the facile and genial Callcott. His Windsor of 1804 made a considerable impression. He had not exhibited more than fifteen pictures, including several of small pretensions, when, in the place of Owen [probably William Owen RA (1769-1825)], promoted, he was elected an A.R.A. in 1807. Some years before this he had returned to the Gravel Pits, and devoted most of his time to landscape painting. He crossed the Channel in 1807, and was in Wales in the following year. Later, he sent the large Cow Boys to the British Institution, to which gallery he frequently contributed.

Left: Windsor from Eton (between 1808 and 1809, so not the same painting as the one mentioned above). Right: Cow Boys (1807).

In 1810 he became a Royal Academician, in the place of Bartolozzi [Francesco Bartolozzi, RA (1727-1815)], deceased. In fact, the choice of the R.As. lay, in this instance, between (Sir) R. Westmacott and Callcott. His diploma picture is Morning, which had been exhibited a few years before his promotion. He continued to send pictures to the Academy with almost complete regularity and increasing success. His amiable character and many accomplishments ensured Callcott a good reception in society; we find him on excellent terms with John Varley, [Sir David] Wilkie, [Charles Allston Collins, Lawrence, [William] Mulready, [John] Linnell, and Constable, In 1813, David Wilkie "called on Mr. Callcott, and saw him engaged on a picture, which he is going through on a new and, I think, a very improved principle." This throws good light on Callcott's pictures and his pleasing facility. He was in Holland in, or shortly before, 1818; in 1826, we find Wilkie writing to his sister from Velletri: — "Tell Callcott from me, he ought on no account to delay seeing Italy; the composition and the colour are on an improved scale to anything in England for landscape painting."

Dutch River Scene (c.1819-c.1842).

In 1827 he married Mrs. Maria Graham, daughter Admiral Dundas, and widow of Captain Graham, who had travelled in Italy, India, and South America with her husband, and written various books of her experiences and opinions, including a Life of Nicholas Poussin, 1820, which is one of the most inchoate artistic biographies yet produced. After her marriage, she produced other works of superior character. A curious story concerning John Varley's practice of astrology has been related by the Messrs. Redgrave in their Century of Painters. Varley asked Callcott to tell him his exact age, and, having obtained it, cast his nativity, sealed it up, and gave it to [William] Mulready, with injunctions to keep it safe till Callcott was fifty years of age. The paper was, it is said, laid aside and forgotten, until Callcott, then in his fiftieth year, wrote to Mulready and invited him to his wedding. Mulready recollected Varley's sealed paper, took it to the feast and opened it in the presence of the company; the contents were "Callcott will remain single until his fiftieth year, and then will marry and go to Italy." The prophecy was very nearly, but not quite verified by the event. To Italy, moved by Wilkie's suggestions, Callcott and his bride proceeded, visiting Venice, Rome, Padua, and other cities, and Tyrol, and his wife found occasion to write on Giotto's Chapel, and Rome in the Nineteenth Century. The pair returned home in 1828.

The Passage Point, An Italian Composition (1829-30).

In 1833 he produced a capital example, which has been deservedly admired, with the title of Harvest in the Highlands. The figures in this work were painted by Sir Edwin Landseer. It was engraved in 1856 for the Art Union of London by Mr. H. T. Willmore. In 1837 Callcott's Raphael and the Fomarina, a very graceful and agreeable picture (of which there are two versions) in which we trace the united influences of [John Lock] Eastlake and Italy, was at the Academy and made a great impression, to which we may ascribe the knighthood of the artist. This picture was, like its forerunner, engraved for and published by the Art Union of London. In 1840 he exhibited Milton dictating to his Daughters. In 1842 Lady Callcott died. In 1844 the Queen appointed him Surveyor of the Royal Pictures; his health, never very robust, had become seriously impaired, and his increasing feebleness terminated in death, November 25, 1844.

Few artists had a greater number of friends, or by universal kindliness deserved a warmer regard than he; one of these friends described his career as of the most placid, happy and fortunate kind, resembling one of those softly illuminated and gently flowing rivers he often sympathetically painted. He was well known as a genial and homely host, at whose table many old friends occasionally met. The late Mr. Solomon Hart, R.A., whose satirical touches are often amusing, thus, without malice, described an entertainment given by his friend: "Callcott's dinners were of the simplest kind. They consisted of a boiled sole, a roast leg of mutton, and an apple pudding; or a fried sole, a roast leg of mutton, and an apple pudding. Two decanters of antique date, of port and sherry, flanked the viands." — Vide Reminiscences, etc., p. 73.

Engraving of Raffaelle and Fornarina (after a painting exhibited in 1837).

Many of Callcott's pictures have obtained relatively large prices; thus, in 1861, Southampton Water brought 1,200 guineas; the English Landscape, with cattle by Landseer, was sold in 1863 for 3,000 guineas; in 1865 it was re-sold for £2,000; and in 1883 it was again sold for £1,470. In 1882, River Scene realised £2,152; in 1886, An Italian Landscape fetched £1,050. These data, and many others of the same nature, are from Mr. G. Redford's book, soon to be published, on the Sales of Pictures by Modern Painters.

Many of Callcott's pictures, besides those published by the Art Union, have been engraved. To the present writer his masterpiece seems to be the beautiful Dead Calm on the Medway (R.A. No. 81, 1820), belonging to the Earl of Durham, and now at Lambton Castle, Durham. Launce and his Dog has much spirit: several capital examples are in the National Gallery.


Stephens, F. G. A Century of British Art from 1737-1837 with notes by F.G. Stevens (The Grosvenor Gallery Winter Exhibition). 2nd ed. revised. London: Henry Good & Son, 1888. 127-130. Internet Archive. Digitised book from the collections of the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, uploaded by library staff. Web. 11 April 2023.

[Illustration source] Story, Alfred Thomas. The Life of John Linnell. R. Bentley, 1892. Internet Archive. From a copy in the Getty Research Institute. Web. 11 April 2023.

Created 11 April 2022