British artist George Goodwin Kilburne created an idyll of Victorian life in his elegantly painted genre scenes.
Kilburne, the son of a schoolmaster and amateur artist, had originally trained as an engraver upon moving to London. He had been enrolled in the workshop of the famous Dalziel Brothers, the premium engravers of Victorian Britain, who offered their services to periodicals and artists alike.
The brothers Dalziel stated themselves that Kilburne was ‘one of the most satisfactory pupils we ever had.’ Engraving, however, was not fulfilling Kilburne’s creative needs. After a period of time, he left the workshop of the Dalziel Brothers and embarked on a career in painting. Fortunately, there was no bad blood between them. Kilburne would go on to marry the niece of the Dalziel Brothers, Janet Dalziel.
In painting, Kilburne certainly found his vocation and much success. As time passed and Kilburne began to ingratiate himself into the artistic and social circles of the British upper-class, his style became synonymous with refined, elegant depictions of the well-to-do. Painting usually in watercolour, Kilburne gently infuses his scenes with pleasantness evocative of the sensibilities required of the upper classes. The posturing of his female figures is gentle, no movement is bold or unladylike. Arms raise with the grace of bird wings buoyed by the air, their figures painted with a swan-like elegance.
They often lounge in fine interiors which were very much considered Kilburne’s area of expertise. The exquisite detail he affords to opulent drawing rooms and boudoirs is handled with a keen eye for composition. Whilst these women are the epitome of beauty, they are grounded in realism which, so awash with gentle colouring, becomes an ideal of life to which Victorian society hoped to aspire.
Whilst Kilburne’s paintings were not pushing the boundaries of art, they were incredibly popular with the public. ‘For more than sixty years he had no difficulty in selling his things,’ newspapers reported upon his death. His view of the Victorian domestic idyll was a commercial success. His works were often reprinted in publications such as Punch magazine and the English Illustrated Magazine. Not only that, but Kilburne also exhibited extensively in galleries such as the Royal Academy and the Suffolk Street Galleries. He was also a member of many societies, including the New Watercolour Society and the Langham Sketching Club.
Indeed, Kilburne became part of a loose group of artists referred to by their peers as the ‘Haverstock Hill Men.’ This group of artists lived, mostly, on the same street in London, Steele’s Road, and executed with the same elegance and traditionalism beauteous works of art. Alongside Kilburne, working on the same street, were Fred Barnard (1846-1896) and Sir James D. Linton (1840-1916), to name only a few. By the time of his death in 1932, Kilburne was the last of this group, and their popularity had long since faded.
Kilburne finally found his affinity for painting after a time of trial and error. It was a pursuance which rewarded him greatly. However, he also paid the price for his craft. On one occasion, after completing a set of Christmas cards for a publishing company, Kilburne suffered an episode of gout in his eyes. The intense concentration and attention to detail needed were pushing his body to its limits. Nonetheless, it is a suitable example of the dedication Kilburne applied to his craft.
Today, many of his paintings are housed in galleries across the country, including the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and Sheffield Art Gallery.
Born in Hackford, Norfolk, Britain.
Married Janet Dalziel.
Exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.
Became a member of the New Watercolour Society.
Wife Janet Kilburne died.
Became a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.
Married Edith Golightly.
Became a member of the Royal Miniature Society.
Died in London, Britain. Buried in Highgate Cemetery.