Under the mistletoe signed 'J C Horsley' (centre right) oil on canvas 72 x 92cm (28 3/8 x 36 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: London, Royal Academy, 1865, no. 146
John Calcott Horsley was born at Brompton row, London, the eldest son of the composer William Horley (1774-1858) and his wife Elizabeth Hutchins Callcot (1793-1875), daughter of the composer John Wall Calcott (1779-1844), and brother of the landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott. One of Horsley's sisters married Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)
William Mulready was a close family friend and along with Augustus, he encouraged Horsley to enroll at Henry Sass's academy in Bloomsbury. In 1831 he enrolled at the Royal Academy schools and the following year won a silver medal for drawing from the antique. Horsley began his career painting costume pictures, strongly influenced by Dutch seventeenth-cetury masters; however he is most famous for designing the first Christmas card for Henry Cole in 1857.
During the latter part of his life Horsley's strong religious beliefs found a voice in protest against the demeaning consequences of female artists' models posing nude. His opinions were ridiculed by the press, with Punch nicknaming him 'clothes-Horsley', and he was attacked by other artists, most notably J. A. M. Whistler, who exhibited a pastel of a nude at the Society of Artists in December 1885 with a note attached reading 'Horsley soit qui mal y pense'.