Chalon RA, Alfred Edward (1780-1860)

Chalon RA, Alfred Edward (1780-1860)

Alfred Edward Chalon RA was a distinguished Swiss-born British portraitist and a favourite of Queen Victoria’s. He trained at the Royal Academy in London where he exhibited an astonishing 396 works and became a member. His works are held in numerous public collections including at the British Museum, V&A, The Met, and the National Portrait Gallery.


Royal Academy, British Institution.

Public Collections

British Museum, V&A, Royal Museums Greenwich, Baltimore Museum of Art, The Met, National Portrait Gallery, The Courtauld London, Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, Royal Holloway University of London, Government Art Collection, Museum of the Home, National Trust, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Wellcome Collection.



Born in Geneva, Switzerland to Jan Chalon and Mary Chalon (nee Boruars). His father later worked at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, England, as a professor.


Enrolled at the Royal Academy in London.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with a portrait of ‘Mrs Starkey’. He exhibited 396 works in total.


Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.


Elected a full member of the Royal Academy. As reported in The Morning Post.

“On Saturday the 10th inst. in a General Assembly of the Academicians, held at their apartments in Somerset Ilouse, Mr. WILLIAM MULREADY and Mr. ALFRED EDWARD CHALON were duly elected Academicians of the Royal Academy, in the room of FRANCISCO BARTOLOZZI and JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, Esqrs. deceased.”


Commissioned to produce a portrait of Queen Victoria, which was received so warmly that he became ‘Portrait Painter in Water Colour to Her Majesty’. As reported in the Morning Chronicle.

“The Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint Mr. Alfred Edward Chalon, R. A., to be her Majesty's portrait painter in watercolours. Mr. Chalon was commanded to attend at Windsor on Tuesday, and was honoured by a sitting of her Majesty for a portrait in miniature.”


The head from his 1837 portrait of Queen Victoria was used for certain postage stamps and circulated within some of the British colonies. It was dubbed the ‘Chalon Head’.
Lived in Marylebone, London, with his brother, the artist, John James Chalon (1778–1854).


Died in Kensington, London.

Biography published in ‘A history of water-colour painting in England, by Gilbert R. Redgrave’, 1892.

“ALFRED EDWARD CHALON, R.A., younger brother of the above (John James Chalon), and like him destined for commercial pursuits. These were thoroughly distasteful to him, and in 1797 he became a student of the Academy. In 1808 he
joined the short-lived Society of Associated Artists, and about this time practised portraiture in water-colours, in which branch of art he greatly distinguished himself, and became, in fact, one of the most fashionable painters of the day. He was appointed painter in water-colours to the Queen. He excelled in his small full-length portraits, mostly of ladies, which were charmingly posed and most pleasant in colouring.

His associateship at the Royal Academy dated from 1812, and he gained his membership in 1816. He enjoyed an established reputation also for his subject pictures in oil, and many of his works were engraved. In his later life he proposed to give the large collection he had formed of works by himself and his brother to the inhabitants of Hampstead, but they were unable to accept the offer. He then offered his works to the Government, but while the matter was under consideration, he died suddenly, October 3rd, 1860, and by the direction of the heir-at-law at Geneva, the collection was sold by auction.”

Biography published in ‘An illustrated history of painters of all schools. By Louis Viarot and other writers’, 1877.

“Alfred Edward Chalon, the younger brother of John Chalon, was born at Geneva in 1781. He adopted painting as a profession in opposition to the wishes of his parents, who had intended him to be a merchant. In 1796, he entered the Royal Academy schools, and soon afterwards became popular as a portrait painter in water-colours. He was elected an Associate of the Academy in 1812, and a full member four years afterwards.

Soon after the accession of her Majesty the Queen, Chalon painted her likeness, and was also appointed portrait painter in water-colours to her Majesty. In 1855, his own works, with those of his recently deceased brother, were exhibited in the rooms of the Society of Arts at the Adelphi. Alfred Edward Chalon died at Kensington in 1860, and was buried by the side of his brother in Highgate Cemetery. The most popular, perhaps, of his historic works, is John Knox reproving the ladies of Queen Mary's Court.”

Letter from Alfred Edward Chalon RA to Thomas Uwins RA RWS (1782-1857) published in Uwins’ memoirs in 1858.

"Mio Caro, Palazzo Campana, Naples, Dec. 24, 1826.

A merry Christmas, and a happy new year to you! Though banished from the land of plum-pudding and mince pies, and carpeted rooms and sea coal fires, I cannot banish from my mind the feelings that accompany these comforts, or let loose one link of that chain that still binds me to my native country.

It is a long arm indeed that I must make to get hold of your daddles, and as I never had the presumption to rival Cristall in anything I will not attempt it, but I do what I can mentally to get at you. I write at midsummer to prove to you that I had not forgotten the season of your meeting, and I now write at Christmas in hope that my letter may arrive with the twelfth-cake, and that I may still be drank to as a member (though a truant one) of your united corps. For your doings- they are all so eclipsed by this wonder-working people, that I will say nothing of them. This is the land of improviso genius. Poets will recite you after dinner a long string of verses as well connected and as neatly put together as if they had taken a month in the making, and yesterday I went to see a painter who advertised he would paint a picture in two hours (the size of an English half length) of any subject the company would dictate, either in imitation of the manner of Salvator Rosa, Claude, Correggio, or the divine Raphael; and all for pure love of the art, without any motive of interest either immediate or remote.

It is amusing to see the various shapes that quackery takes in this tinselled and gilt-gingerbread country. I almost blushed for the curiosity that led me to the exhibition, but a surgeon may sometimes amuse himself by seeing a mountebank draw a tooth, or dress a wound; and a member of the Epic and Pastoral may condescend to witness the extempore exertions of a Neapolitan professor. Oh! how wise I shall be when I get back to you! The monkey that had seen the world was nothing to me. I hope you will be prepared to receive me with all due decorum and to listen to me with the profoundest reverence, that no Bone may be allowed to lie in my path, nor any Stump to impede my progress. Since I wrote to you I have been wandering through the north of Italy. I have seen the Titians, Tintorets, Giorgiones, and Veroneses of Venice, the frescoes of Julio Romano at Mantua, the Correggios and Parmegianos at Parma, and the renowned productions of Guido, Domenichino, and the Carracci at Bologna.

I have performed a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Raphael, visited for a second time the magnificent collections of Florence, and seen Rome again and again in all its majesty and glory. And now, as my employment in this place is nearly at an end, I shall possibly slip back to England in a steam boat, or get trundled over the mountains in a diligence without looking to the right or left. You must not be surprised if I should pop in some Friday evening, looking like the shadow of a shade, not a charmant jeune homme, but a decrepit, bald-pated, grey-headed specimen of semi-vitality; supporting what is left of me with all the grace in my power, that I may not be called one of the last legs of the Society.

The great novelty of my excursion is the having become acquainted with Tintoret and Giorgione, two gentlemen who before this visit to Venice I never had the honour to know much of. It is only in Venice that their works are to be seen. Many of the large pictures of Tintoret are painted with a slightness and carelessness unworthy of him, but those to which he has given his attention are indeed great. The miracle of the Slave at the Academy is, I suppose, one of the finest examples of painting that exists in the world. Some of his pictures have a charm that seems to place them above the exertions of humanity. The 'Presentation of the Virgin in the church of Santa Maria del Orto, and 'St. Mark saving a Slave from Shipwreck,' in the royal palace, are pictures of this class. It is common cant to talk about magic and enchantment, but there is really something so magical in these two subjects, that we may be allowed without affectation to use the terms.

The excellence of Giorgione seems more within the reach of these degenerate days. He never went much beyond a head or a group of heads, but what he did do seems to me very near perfection. There is a noble style and a grand conception of nature in his works that raises them above every other painter, Titian not excepted. Giorgione died young, which accounts for the scarcity of his works; and indeed all the pictures I have ever seen attributed to him, are so inferior to the two in the Manfrini Palace at Venice, that I should think originals by his hand are still more scarce than they are said to be. Venice is certainly the place for a man to settle fairly down for the study of painting. I envy those who have time and money enough to do it. Composition and form may be learnt in other places, but in Venice only is to be found the really grand style for conducting a picture from beginning to end.

The critics talk much of Bologna, and certainly Ludovico Carracci presents some fine examples of this conduct (if I may so call it) of a picture, but the cold, heartless compositions of Guido, and the sprawling, unmeaning, tasteless assemblages of Domenichino, are not the things for my money.

The Bolognese seem to have thought that size was grandeur, and that to be monstrous was to be sublime-not so Raphael. He was satisfied with the human figure such as he found it, or such as stripping it of its peculiarities made it, and never thought it necessary to get out of nature for the materials of his grandest works. I was pleased to see, in the Palazzo del T, at Mantua, the tapestry from the cartoons at Hampton Court, and to find the two subjects which are wanting in the English set quite worthy of the rest. They are the 'Conversion of Paul,' and the 'Stoning of Stephen.'

They shine out amidst the frescoes of Julio Romano, and prove to the spectator that to be Raphael's pupil, his favourite pupil, was not after all to be Raphael. There is a truism for you! Munden's bundle of proverbs would hardly match it.

I ought to say something of Correggio. I really do admire him very much, but he sinks in comparison with the gigantic Venetians. His St. Jerome I think a little overrated, but it is a beautiful thing; and there is a fresco group in the library at Parma of Christ crowning the Virgin, that might be selected as an example of the grandest style of art. The celebrated cupola of the Cathedral is so much injured by time, and is so difficult to get at, that its beauties must depend much on the imagination of the person looking at it, and the beautiful Putti at St. John's are going the way of all paintings, as well as all flesh (I do not know if you understand this joke).

Of one thing I have become convinced by this excursion, that no one has got a great name without deserving it, or without having worked hard for it. There is one class of artists whose works have interested me amazingly, but whose names are seldom heard tell of. They are to be found, not in galleries or palaces, but in churches and convents, sometimes in obscure towns and paltry villages. I mean that race which immediately preceded the age of Raphael and his contemporaries, Giotto, Cimabue, and a number of others whose names are scarcely known to fame.

If I were a young man, I should think my time well employed in making a collection of the thoughts of these patriarchs in art and I am sure nothing would tend more to form the taste of the English school than the publication of such a collection. The Germans look much to this period of art, but I fear they carry their admiration rather too far, and in some cases imitate its oddities and peculiarities instead of its simplicity and grandeur.

If you have gone thus far with me you are by this time almost tired to death, but there is hope for you as the paper will not hold much more.

Richard Cook is copying Tintoret with great energy at Venice; I never saw a man enter with more relish into the luxuries of Venetian art. He lives in Lord Byron's house (the Casa Moncenigo), and is waited on by Lord Byron's old servant. Wilkie, after wandering over Germany, has returned to Rome. Whether he be well enough to do much I have not heard. Amongst other great men at Rome there is a Mr. Bewick, who has had the happiness to be pupil to the greater Mr. of 'Lady Jane Grey's hesitation in accepting the Crown,' and Newton an indifferent one of 'Catalina singing to the Prince of Spain,' vide Gil Blas, both for the Duke of Bedford. Gibson's group of 'Two Boys carrying a Girl,' is very pretty, graceful, and beautifully executed and finished, and savouring much of Canova's school; it occupied the centre of the room, supported on each side by Chantrey's Sir J. Banks and Babington; Flaxman, a poor statue of Kemble; and Westmacott a Nymph and Cupid.

The Water-Colour Society, agreeable as usual, sported a new feature, a screen covered with leaves, out of Mrs. G. Haldiman's album, all framed alike in rich frost-work, and offering in profile the appearance of an immense mass of gilt gingerbread; the front view was still more attractive, presenting some very agreeable drawings by members of the Society, and consequently rather wanting in figures. Hunt is coming forward advantageously in that department. Havell, who, excepting the loss of a few teeth and the acquisition of a 'menton de galoche,' is much the same, sent some clever drawings, though I find they are not popular with the members, owing to the free use of body colour. John is just arrived from Switzerland with his mind and folio chock full of ideas and subjects; he went to Chamouni with our Cicerone Bertrand, and is quite delighted with all he saw; he met Wilkie at Geneva, who is painting his picture of the washing the feet by a princess, at your friend Monsieur Audéond's; he looks ill, and says he is not sufficiently well to come to England. Adieu, dear Uwins; receive the most friendly remembrances of the members of the Society, and of our house, and believe me,

Yours very truly,


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