John George Sowerby

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John George Sowerby
Born(1849-07-04)July 4, 1849
DiedDecember 14, 1914(1914-12-14) (aged 65)
Occupationpainter, illustrator, businessman
Years active1876-1914
Spouse(s)Amy Margaret Hewison

Detail from At Home, 1881
Chrysanthemums, watercolour

John George Sowerby (1849–1914) was an English painter and illustrator from Gateshead, and director of Ellison Glass Works, the Sowerby family business, which during the 1880s was the largest producer of pressed glass in the world. The grandson of naturalist James Sowerby,[1] his paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts, and his children's book illustrations were generally well received.[2][3]

Sowerby's landscapes and floral paintings, while not numerous, were described as showing "a genuine Pre-Raphaelite intensity of vision".[4] He brought designs inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement into Ellison Glassworks.[2] He collaborated with the painter H. H. Emmerson on the 1880 children's book Afternoon Tea, which was generally praised by book reviewers but generated some controversy: artist Kate Greenaway and her supporters viewed it as an inferior imitation of her 1879 picture book Under the Window: a commercial success that inspired a wave of similar books.[5] Sowerby countered that the illustrations were not imitations of Greenaway's art but merely within the same genre.[6] Afternoon Tea also suffered from printing inconsistencies and colour misalignment, the result of somewhat haphazard assembly by three different engraving firms before publication.[5] Two of Sowerby's later children's books however (At Home and At Home Again, each decorated by Thomas Crane), are regarded as superior;[7] described by librarian scholar Roger Dixon as "among the loveliest books ever produced."[8]

Sowerby married Amy Margaret Hewison in 1872. They had one son and five daughters.[9]:27 His daughter Githa Sowerby became a noted playwright and children's book author, with many of her books illustrated by sister Millicent Sowerby, who also illustrated classic nursery rhymes and stories such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[3] She portrayed John Sowerby, as the owner of a failing glassworks in the north-east of England in dispute with his children, in her play Rutherford and Son (1912).[10]

Sowerby died on 14 December 1914 in Herefordshire, to where he had retired.[11]

Ellison Glass Works[edit]

Sowerby's family had been in the glass making business since the early 1800s when his grandfather George Sowerby was a partner in the New Stourbridge Glass Works.[9]:19 George Sowerby was succeeded by his son John (John George's father), who opened the larger Ellison's Glass Works in 1852, which took advantage of increased mechanization to increase production and increase profits.[9]:22 John George Sowerby was raised to the family business; in 1871, he began work as a manager and colour-mixer at the age of 22. He patented several innovations in glass-making in the 1870s.[9]:27 In 1880, the Ellison Glass Works became a limited private company, and in 1881, John George Sowerby was elected the first chairman of the board.[9]:34 His tenure as chairman was brief and financially damaging. Two ventures into higher-end artistic glass and pottery produced fine work but lost money, and John George was removed as chairman in November 1883. The loss of income resulted in his bankruptcy. He returned to work at the Glass Works intermittently in the 1880s, and left the company in the early 1890s.[9]:35-36 In 1896, he severed all ties to the glass works by selling his shares in the company (and thus losing his primary source of income.)[9]:37 It was then that he began to work on painting full time.[9]:38


  • Afternoon Tea: Rhymes for Children. With H. H. Emmerson. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1880
  • At Home. With Thomas Crane. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1881
  • At Home Again. With Thomas Crane and Eliza Keary. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1883
  • Jimmy: Scenes From the Life of a Black Doll. London: George Routledge & Sons., 1888
  • Young Maids & Old China. With F. W. Bourdillon. London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1889
  • Rooks and their Neighbours. London: Gay & Bird; Newcastle-on-Tyne: Mawson, Swan, & Morgan, 1895


  1. ^ Cleevely, C.J. (September 2004). "Sowerby, John Edward". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ a b Arwas, Victor (1996). The Art of Glass: Art Nouveau to Art Deco. Papadakis Publisher. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-901092-00-4.
  3. ^ a b Gray, Sara (2009). "Sowerby, Amy Millicent". The Dictionary of British Women Artists. Casemate Publishers. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-7188-3084-7.
  4. ^ Wood, Christopher (1996). Victorian Painting in Oils and Watercolours. Antique Collectors' Club. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-85149-249-7.
  5. ^ a b Lundin, Anne (1993). "Under the Window and Afternoon Tea: "Twirling the Same Blade of Grass"". The Lion and the Unicorn. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 17 (1): 45–56. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0311. ISSN 0147-2593.
  6. ^ Taylor, Ina (1991). The Art of Kate Greenaway: A Nostalgic Portrait of Childhood. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4556-0037-3.
  7. ^ Girouard, Mark (1977). Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement, 1860–1900. The Clarendon Press. pp. 150–151. ISBN 978-0-19-817330-4.
  8. ^ Dixon, Roger (2011). "Belfast Publishing". In Murphy, James H. (ed.). The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume IV: The Irish Book in English, 1800–1891. Oxford University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-19-818731-8.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Riley, Patricia. Looking for Githa. Newcastle upon Tyne. ISBN 9780955882944. OCLC 471496344.
  10. ^ Brown, Mark (14 August 2009). "Githa Sowerby, the forgotten playwright, returns to the stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  11. ^ Slack, Raymond (1987). English Pressed Glass, 1830–1900. Barrie & Jenkins. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7126-1871-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Murray, Sheilagh (1982). The Peacock and the Lions: A History and Manual for Collectors of Pressed Glass of the North-East of England. Stocksfield, Northumberland: Oriel Press. ISBN 9780853621973.
  • Simon., Cottle, (1986). Sowerby : Gateshead glass. Tyne and Wear Museums Service. [Newcastle upon Tyne, England]: Tyne and Wear Museums Service. ISBN 0905974271. OCLC 17224720.

External links[edit]