JOHN GLOVER: Artist and Nature Lover

Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point, 1834 - photo by NGA Collection Simple | National Gallery of Australia

English-born John Glover was born at Houghton-on-Hill in Leicestershire, England on 18 February 1767. He was the youngest son of farmer William and Ann, née Bright.

He showed an early interest in wildlife and as a child in the fields near Ingersby, was to be found sketching birds and nature.

John Glover – Photo by Cooks Hill Galleries

He also developed a talent for calligraphy and around 1787 was appointed writing master at the Free School, Appleby, founded in the 15th century. He also began painting in oil and watercolour while at the school. By 1794, he had married Sarah, a woman nine years older then he, and they moved to Lichfield, Staffordshire, approximately 200 km north-west of London. Society heiress Jane Stanhope, Countess of Harrington (1755-1824), had a talent for art and was possibly a pupil of Glover’s in the early 1790’s; she also assisted Glover in establishing himself as an art instructor at Lichfield.

For the next nine years or so, Glover exhibited his paintings developed from sketching tours of Cumberland, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Wales and Scotland at the Royal Academy. The financial benefits he received from this enable him and his family to move to London. In 1807, Glover was the president of the Water Colour Society, but the organisation split up in 1812 when a faction wanted oil painting to be included in its exhibitions. The society was re-branded as the Society of Painters in Oils and Water-Colours. Glover joined as a member, having exhibited oil paintings from 1810 and continuing to do so until 1827.

The Bay of Naples, John Glover – Photo by Art UK

Glover’s inspiration came from Thomas Gainsborough, Welsh landscape painter and a founder member of the Royal Academy Richard Wilson, and French landscapist Claude Lorrain. Glover undertook a trip to Germany and France in 1814. In Paris, he visited the Louvre where Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been forced to abdicate in April that year, had a collection of paintings amassed from various countries. Glover was able to exhibit his large landscape The Bay of Naples measuring approximately 6 ft x 4ft in a salon; these were hubs of social and intellectual ideas and were integral to the development of French culture. The painting attracted the attention of the King, Louis XVIII, who commissioned a gold medal in its honour. (This was stolen from the Launceston Art Gallery, Tasmania on 20 January 1904, to whom it had been on loan.)

In 1817, Glover left London, resigning from the Society of Painters in Oils and Water-Colours. He moved to the Lake District where he lived near Ullswater for two years. He undertook another trip to the continent in 1818, where he visited Switzerland and Italy. Glover opened his own gallery on 24 April 1820 at 16 Old Bond Street, also exhibiting his son William’s and pupil Edward Price’s work. The Earl of Durham bought a painting of Durham Castle for £500.

View of Ullswater, John Glover – Photo by Sotheby’s

He held one-man shows in London in 1823 and 1824. In 1823, he became a founding member of the Society of British Artists, remaining a member until his death. He exhibited with them until 1830. Despite not ever being elected to the Royal Academy, he had great public support.

Glover had a narrow escape on 21 October 1825, when he and two other passengers alighted from the steamship PS Comet II at Rothesay in Scotland; shortly thereafter the boat was in a collision with the paddle-steamer SS Ayr off Kempock Point, in which 62 of the approximated 80 passengers died. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser dated 25 Mar 1826, p3, reported that “The Ayr, we learn, had a light out upon her bow, but the Comet had none. As the night, however, was clear, it is obvious that a bad lookout had been kept up, and most reprehensible neglect shown on both sides. At the moment the accident took place, those on the deck of the Comet were, it is said, engaged in dancing. The passengers, who were below, were in high spirits, amusing themselves telling and listening to diverting tales. The first stroke hit about the paddle of the Comet. The Captain and passengers immediately ran upon deck to see what was wrong; when – the next fatal stroke took place with such force, that the Comet filled, and in two minutes went down head foremost. The moment this took place, the Ayr, instead of lending any assistance, gave her paddles a backstroke, turned around, and went off to Greenock, leaving them to their fate.

A View of Patterdale Fell at Ullswater, John Glover – Photo by Artnet

Glover painted many works of the area near his home; his oil ‘View of Ullswater, an Extensive Lakeland Landscape with a Distant View of Ullswater’ sold for A$90 000 in November 2004 and ‘A View of Patterdale Fell at Ullswater, Lake District’ for A$66 020 in June 2005.

The King encouraged Glover to emigrate to what was then Van Diemen’s land, now Tasmania. The Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 – 1954) of Thursday 25 November 1926 p.10 reported the following: “The French King, so it is said, directed Glover’s attention to Van Diemen’s Land, and on October 4, 1830, with his family, he sailed for this colony in the ship Thomas Lowry. The ship arrived in the Tamar on February 18, 1831, and having discharged her Launceston cargo, sailed for Hobart, Glover going with her. He presented his credentials to Governor George Arthur and received a grant of land watered by the beautiful Nile, lying on the slopes of Ben Lomond. Here he built a fine residence, still standing, named it “Patterdale,” and at the age of 63, entered upon a new career as a settler and pastoralist.”

Glover may have been encouraged to emigrate at his advanced age due to failing eyesight, combined with his physical disability of club feet and ‘large stature’.

An image of Classical landscape by John Glover – Photo by Art Gallery NSW | NSW Government

Three of John and Sarah’s sons, James with his wife, William and Henry has already sailed to Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in July 1829. Two married daughters, Mary Bowles and Emma Lord, chose to remain in England. Before arriving in the new country, William had already bought 80 acres of land, for which he paid with his drawings to the value of £300. The three sons were together granted a total of 1780 acres against their investment of £1600.

John, Sarah, their eldest son John Richardson Glover and servant Thomas Eley arrived in Hobart on John’s 64th birthday in 1831. John bought Ring Farm and stated on his land grant application that he had already bought two farms in the district of Drummond. Between April 1831 and early 1832, they lived in a home called Stanwell Hall in Hobart. He had brought shrubs and song-birds together with £7000 from England and anticipated an income of £1000 per annum from sales of his paintings in London. The land grant Glover received at Mills Plain in the town of Deddington later that year was one of the largest at the time. He named it ‘Patterdale’, after his home near Ullswater, and the plot was eventually expanded to more than 7000 acres. Glover assisted in the building of the chapel at Deddington, where he is buried.

Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land by John Glover – Photo by Art Gallery NSW | NSW Government

Glover is renowned for his work on the Tasmanian landscape. Previous English painters had tended to paint Australian scenes as ‘English country gardens’ but Glover captured the light and bush as it was. However, his realistic views were not always translated to his work depicting the local populace. His work ‘Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land’ purports to show peaceable living arrangements between the Settlers and the Aborigines. However, prior to British colonisation, there were an estimated 3000-15000 Palawa (indigenous Tasmanians). By 1835, this number had dropped to around 400, and of these only 47 survived the following twelve years. The deaths have been attributed mostly to introduced diseases, but warfare was also a leading cause. Glover’s painting sold for A$52 000 in March 1974.

In 1835, Glover sent a collection of 68 paintings back to London to be exhibited. Thirty-eight were ‘descriptive of the Scenery and Customs of Van Diemen’s Land’, comprising local scenery and people. One of these works ‘Mount Wellington and Hobart Town with Natives Dancing and Bathing’ sold for more than A$1.5 million in 2001. Another work, ‘Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot’s Property – Four Men Catching Opossums’ (1835) sold for close to A$ 2.5 million in September 2013. Glover’s last major work ‘Corroboree of Natives’ was painted on his 79th birthday in 1846.

Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot’s Property – Four Men Catching Opossums, John Glover – Photo by Australian Art Auction Records

John Glover died at his home on 9th December 1849.

He is now well recognised in Australia with the John Glover Society being established in August 2001. The society commissioned a life-size statue of Glover in 2003 which stands in Evandale, Tasmania, 18km south of Launceston. The society also runs the annual Glover Prize which commenced in 2004. The prize is awarded for ‘the best contemporary landscape painting of Tasmania.’ The prize currently comprises A$50,000 and a bronze maquette of Glover valued at $5000.

However, Glover was not always so acclaimed.

The Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 – 1954) ran this story on Thursday 25

An image of Patterdale farm by John Glover – photo by Art Gallery NSW | NSW Government

November 1926 p.10, as reported by J. Moore-Robinson, FRGS: “And the Examiner of December 12, 1849, contains the following notice: ‘On Sunday evening, 9th inst., at his residence, ‘Patterdale,’ Mr John Glover, senior, aged 82, deeply regretted by a large circle of friends and relations:’”

Moore-Robinson goes on to state that he could find no further reference to Glover’s death. He spoke to an elderly local resident, who directed him to John’s and by then Sarah’s graves (she had died four years after John, on 19th November 1853). He found that “their vault is neglected and inscriptionless. It is covered by two heavy slabs of freestone, and except for the testimony of an old resident, Mrs Kaye, I could not have determined it. This fact is not to the credit of Tasmania and should be remedied.”

He goes on to say “There are several descendants of John Glover in Australia. It seems to me that Tasmania would be doing but a simple duty to her greatest artist of old times… if steps were taken to rehabilitate John Glover’s vault at Deddington. An alternative would be to remove the remains to Carr Villa, where the tomb of the old artist would be rightly cared for. Vale! John Glover, the friend of kings.”

The Examiner ran a follow-up story on Saturday 8th October 1927, p.8:

A corrobery of natives in Mills Plains, John Glover – Photo by National Gallery of Australia

‘Last year “The Examiner” published exclusively the story of John Glover, the famous artist, who settled at Deddington in 1831. He gave that settlement its name, and at the same time built “Patterdale” as his home, bestowing both names from well-loved Cumberland localities. With his wife, he lies in an unnamed, unkempt vault beside the church he built. Although this fact was enlarged upon by “The Examiner,” the vault of one of England’s greatest painters remains unmarked, a decaying monument to the fickleness of fame. Some of the residents, however, have moved, and to-morrow a framed photograph of the painter is to be hung in the church. The photograph has been presented by Mrs Nisbet, and the service is to take place at 3 o’clock. It is interesting to note that the late Henry Button married John Glover’s granddaughter in the same church and that the desk Bible is inscribed as having been presented by “John Glover and subscribers.” To-morrow’s event has historical import as well as sentimental significance and may lead to the marking of the vault stores.’

On the anniversary of Glover’s 250th birthday in 2017, the garden of his first home in Hobart, Stanwell Hall, was opened to the public. Here Glover had painted ‘Hobart Town, taken from the garden where I lived’; he inscribed the back ‘The geraniums, roses etc. will give some idea how magnificent the garden may be had here — Government House is to the left of the church, the barracks on the eminence, to the right.’ The painting is now held by the State Library of New South Wales.

Also, to mark the occasion, the Governor of Tasmania planted a tree to replace the Atlantic Cedar tree, known as the ‘Glover Tree’ featured in the painting which had been destroyed in a storm some eight years previously.

John Glover has finally found his rightful place as the ‘father of Australian landscape painting.’