John George Sowerby

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File:Chrysanthemums John George Sowerby.jpg
Chrysanthemums, watercolour

John George Sowerby (1850–1914) was an English painter and illustrator from Gateshead, and director of Ellison Glassworks, the Sowerby family business, which during the 1880s was the largest producer of pressed glass in the world. The grandson of naturalist James Sowerby, his paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts, and his children's book illustrations were generally well received.[1][2]

Sowerby's landscapes and floral paintings, while not numerous, were described as showing "a genuine Pre-Raphaelite intensity of vision".[3] He brought designs inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement into Ellison Glassworks.[1] He collaborated with the painter H. H. Emmerson on the 1880 children's book Afternoon Tea, which was generally praised by book reviewers but generated some controversy: artist Kate Greenaway and her supporters viewed it as an inferior imitation of her 1879 picture book Under the Window: a commercial success that inspired a wave of similar books.[4] Sowerby countered that the illustrations were not imitations of Greenaway's art but merely within the same genre.[5] Afternoon Tea also suffered from printing inconsistencies and colour misalignment, the result of somewhat haphazard assembly by three different engraving firms before publication.[4] Two of Sowerby's later children's books however (At Home and At Home Again, each decorated by Thomas Crane), are regarded as superior;[6] described by librarian scholar Roger Dixon as "among the loveliest books ever produced."[7]

Sowerby had three sons and three daughters: daughter Githa Sowerby became a noted playwright and children's book author, with many of her books illustrated by sister Millicent Sowerby, who also illustrated classic nursery rhymes and stories such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[2]

Soweby died on 14 December 1914 in Herefordshire, to where he had retired.[8]


  • Afternoon Tea: Rhymes for Children. With H. H. Emmerson. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1880
  • At Home. With Thomas Crane. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1881
  • At Home Again. With Thomas Crane and Eliza Keary. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1883
  • Jimmy: Scenes From the Life of a Black Doll. London: George Routledge & Sons., 1888
  • Young Maids & Old China. With F. W. Bourdillon. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1889
  • Rooks and their Neighbours. London: Gay & Bird; Newcastle-on-Tyne: Mawson, Swan, & Morgan, 1895


  1. 1.0 1.1 Arwas, Victor (1996). The Art of Glass: Art Nouveau to Art Deco. Papadakis Publisher. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-901092-00-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gray, Sara (2009). "Sowerby, Amy Millicent". The Dictionary of British Women Artists. Casemate Publishers. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-7188-3084-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Wood, Christopher (1996). Victorian Painting in Oils and Watercolours. Antique Collectors' Club. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-85149-249-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lundin, Anne (1993). "Under the Window and Afternoon Tea: "Twirling the Same Blade of Grass"". The Lion and the Unicorn. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 17 (1): 45–56. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0311. ISSN 0147-2593.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Taylor, Ina (1991). The Art of Kate Greenaway: A Nostalgic Portrait of Childhood. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4556-0037-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Girouard, Mark (1977). Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement, 1860–1900. AT The Clarendon Press. pp. 150–151. ISBN 978-0-19-817330-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Dixon, Roger (2011). "Belfast Publishing". In Murphy, James H. (ed.). The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume IV: The Irish Book in English, 1800–1891. Oxford University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-19-818731-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Raymond Slack (1987). English Pressed Glass, 1830–1900. Barrie & Jenkins. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7126-1871-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Murray, Sheilagh (1982). The Peacock and the Lions: A History and Manual for Collectors of Pressed Glass of the North-East of England. Stocksfield, Northumberland: Oriel Press. ISBN 9780853621973.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links