John Callcott Horsley was the nephew of the landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott and the brother-in-law of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He married first Elvira Walter and second, Rosamund Haden, Francis Seymour Haden's sister, in 1854.
In 1848, Deborah Haden posed to Horsley for her portrait. Despite being related to him through his brother-in-law Seymour Haden, Whistler did not like him. Whistler described Horsley in a letter to Fantin-Latour in 1863 as one of those in opposition to his art, in particular to his Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl y038.
Horsley was a painter of historical genre subjects. His style was heavily influenced by the painters of the Dutch seventeenth century. In the early 1860s, along with F. D. Hardy, Thomas Webster and G. B. O'Neill, he formed the Cranbrook Colony in Kent.
He was elected A.R.A. in 1855 and R.A. in 1864, and then acted as Rector of the R.A. from 1875 to 1890.
In 1843, Horsley designed the first Christmas card for Henry Cole. In 1873, Horsley completed a commission awarded to Whistler in 1872 by Sir Henry Cole to provide two mosaics for the South Kensington Museum, Horsley providing a design for the figure of Giotto.
In 1885, Horsley expressed concern about the issue of nude female modelling and in response to this Whistler wrote a note to accompany his pastel nude study, Note in Violet and Green m1074, then on exhibited at the SBA exhibition; the note read, 'Horsley soit qui mal y pense' (see GUW #08096). The committee made Whistler remove it.
Horsley, J. C., Recollections of a Royal Academician, London, 1903; Anon., 'J. C. Horsley, A.R.A.', Art Journal, 1857, pp. 181-84; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Greg, A., The Cranbrook Colony, exhibition catalogue, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 1977; Greg, Andrew, 'John Callcott Horsley', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.