John Copley (artist)

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Olympic medal record
Art competitions
Silver medal – second place 1948 London Mixed Painting, Engravings And Etchings

John Copley (25 June 1875 – 17 July 1950) was a British artist. He was a founder member of the Senefelder Club and served as its honorary secretary from 1910 to 1916. While there he met his future wife, Ethel Léontine Gabain, with whom he had two sons. He won a silver medal in the art competitions at the 1948 Summer Olympics aged 73.

Personal life[edit]

John Copley and wife Ethel, c.1930s

Copley was born in Manchester in 1875.[1] He studied art at the Manchester School of Art and the Royal Academy. He spent ten years in Italy before moving to London. In 1909 Copley and Joseph Pennell started the Senefelder Club to publicise and promote lithography as an artistic medium. Copley was honorary secretary of the club until 1916. During this time he met the French-English artist Ethel Léontine Gabain and the couple married in June 1913.[2]

John and Ethel lived in Kent for a time at The Yews in Longfield. They had two children, Peter and Christopher. Peter went on to have a successful and lengthy career as an actor.[3] The family moved to 10 Hampstead Square, NW3, where they created a studio in which the couple could work together. They moved to Alassio, Italy, where they would stay for two and a half years before moving back to London.

Ethel died on 30 January 1950 at the age of 66.[4] Less than six months later, on 17 July 1950, John also died.[1]


Copley was influenced by Ford Madox Brown. He became interested in lithography in 1906 and initially worked in colour before exclusively working in black and white. One of his works claimed a prize at Chicago Art Institute's First International Exhibition of Lithographs. In 1947 Copley was honoured as the president of the Royal Society of British Artists.[2]

Olympic success[edit]

Copley submitted an engraving entitled "Polo Players" to the art competitions of the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London.[1][5] He won the silver medal in the Mixed Painting, Engravings And Etchings category, finishing second behind French artist Albert Decaris.[6] At the time of the competition Copley was 73 years of age, making him the oldest ever Olympic medal winner.[5] The arts competitions are no longer recognised by the International Olympic Committee and, when only considering the sporting competitions, 72-year-old Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn is recorded as the oldest medal winner.[5][7]

The Fine Art Society celebrated Copley's Olympic success at the London Original Print Fair in April 2012. A collection of his works was on display throughout the event.[8]


  1. ^ a b c "John Copley". Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "John Copley". The Fine Art Society. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Anthony Hayward "Peter Copley: Prolific character actor whose career lasted more than 70 years", The Independent, 29 December 2008.
  4. ^ "Ethel Gabain". Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 13 December 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Stromberg, Joseph (25 July 2012). "When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art". Smithsonian. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "Art Competitions at the 1948 London Summer Games". Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 14 August 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  7. ^ Scrivener, Peter (28 May 2008). "Olympic countdown - 72 - Unbeatable records". BBC News. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Wilson, Suzanne. "The London Original Print Fair". Towry Holdings Limited. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 

External links[edit]