Skelton, Joseph Ratcliffe (1865-1927)

Skelton, Joseph Ratcliffe (1865-1927)

British artist Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton is predominantly known as an illustrator for popular periodicals such as The Graphic, The Sketch and The Illustrated London News. But, particularly during the early part of his career, he also produced genre scenes, landscapes and town views in watercolour. Born in Newcastle, England, details of his tuition are unknown although it’s possible that he undertook a period of training with Henry Reynolds Steer (1858-1928).

Skelton’s father, Thomas, was a bookbinder so it’s likely that he had access to a range of literature during his childhood. With this in mind, it’s intriguing to consider what he was reading as this might have inspired the young man to follow a career in the arts. Perhaps he sketched at the family table, copying illustrations from popular novels.

Over time, Skelton’s style adapted. In the late 19th century, his watercolours often carried a restrained sense of tranquillity as we see here in this work from 1893 titled ‘A Quiet Corner of Newcastle’.

Joseph Skelton

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton, A Quiet Corner of Newcastle (1893)

But around 15 years later, his palette was enlivened with richer tones to support dramatic narratives and thrilling scenes.

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton, From Stories of Beowulf by H. E. Marshall (c. 1908)

This work from 1920 seems to blend both approaches.

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton, Drawing of Carlyle and Tennyson with Caption (1920)

In 1891, Skelton debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘A Forgotten Author’, which was his only appearance at Somerset House. For one reason or another, possibly financial, he decided to pursue a career in illustration and never looked back.

Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Academy, and the Royal West of England Academy, where he was a member. He’s represented at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.


Born in Newcastle, England to Thomas, a bookbinder (later a photographer and printmaker), and Sarah (née Knott).


Recorded as boarding with artist Henry Reynolds Steer in Leicester.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘A Forgotten Author’.


Married Violet G Hastie in Richmond, Surrey.


Died in North Kensington, Middlesex.

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