John Preston (1822 – 1888) became a prominent and successful local landscape artist.
John was born in Girlington and his father, William, was employed at a nearby mill as a handloom weaver. John began his education at a local Dame School, then went to the Quaker’s Academy in Chapel Street, Bradford, before completing his education at Bradford Grammar School.
He was particularly proficient in the study of Chemistry and in 1848 opened a chemist shop in the White Abbey district of Bradford, near the family home in Girlington. He also studied and practiced homeopathy, and became interested in photography and eventually giving up pharmacy to pursue photography as a career. He initially went into partnership at a studio in Gloucester, but when this venture failed he returned to Yorkshire, where he opened a photographic studio in Westgate, Bradford.
His interest in art stemmed from his pursuit of photography and from his involvement at a local theatre, where he began acting, stage management, and scenery painting. He became a freelance professional artist following private lessons and encouragement from the successful Leeds artist, Joseph Rhodes, a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy.
John painted landscape scenes, notably of the Lake District, and monastic ruin scenes, popular with art lovers at that time. He gained a number of local patrons and a significant point in his artistic career came in 1870 when he exhibited a landscape at the Art Treasures and Industrial Exhibition in Bradford, gaining him praise in the local ‘Bradford Observer’. Their art critic commented: “There is one picture which is a marvel of creative power – that rivets the eye in inexpressible admiration.”
John became a founder member of the Bradford Art Society, but rarely put forward his own work for exhibition. Most of his paintings were the result of word of mouth recommendation by private collectors, who occasionally presented them for display at local exhibitions, where they gained praise – and more commissions for the artist.
His son, John Emmanuel, later told the local historian, Butler Wood, that his father:
…was unlike most artists of our time, namely, in having none of the ambitious and sordid desires of so-called busy and rising men, but loving art for its own sake, being satisfied when he had achieved a certain end by careful and conscientious labour; parting for a modest sum with many a gem of art that would have adorned the palace of a prince.
John Preston, by now a successful artist, built a house, Littlebeck Hall, at Gilstead, near Bingley (see below), where he spent the remainder of his life painting and collecting archaeological and antique artefacts until his death from bronchitis in 1888.
His son, John Emmanuel, in later life became a local antiquarian and a director of Cartwright Hall Gallery and Museum. His grand-daughter was Nancy Preston, an illustrator for magic lantern slides.
See also Sue Young Histories for more information on the Preston family.
Source: ‘Some Old Bradford Artists’ by Butler Wood, in ‘The Bradford Antiquary’, 1895.