John James Wilson Prolific Artist.

by Jan Holben (article written for The Looker)

This wont be the first nor the last time you will hear me prattle on about the old Folkestone cemetery because the number of interesting and significant characters buried there never cease to surprise me. Our small small volunteer group work there Saturday mornings – these lovely volunteers are a pleasure to work with.

The researchers amongst us (Carole, Karl, Hugh and Stephen) had already uncovered (metaphorically) artist John James Wilson (J.J. Wilson), who for many years lived in Folkestone and was buried in the old Folkestone cemetery. The records confirmed J.J. Wilson was in the old cemetery but the headstone had not been to find because it has fallen face down many years ago. However we paced out where we believed it was and once located and with help from our stronger volunteers we managed to turn it over to confirm we had the right headstone. After a distant researcher contacted me we were able to fill in lots more of the background on this significant artist.

J.J. Wlson, was born 1818 in Lambeth, London, and died 1875 in Folkestone – he was the son of John Wilson also an artist who painted Scottish landscapes and seascapes. Like his father J.J. Wilson painted mostly landscapes in the earlier days and in latter years he also painted seascapes. He moved to Folkestone (the 1861 census had him living at 3 West Terrace Folkestone) with his family and his father in 1853.

J.J. Wilson was a prolific artist and during his career he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts (55 paintings), the British Institution (57 paintings), the Royal Society of British Artists (384 paintings), The Royal Scottish Academy (106 paintings)– and others. In his late 20’s the quality of his work was recognised and he was elected a member of the RBA in1845.

During the period when J.J. Wilson was living in Folkestone his achievements were frequently mentioned in the local press and in 1869, at the Folkestone Art Union, eight of his painting were exhibited and offered as prizes – the first prize painting was At Fecamp, a Normandy fishing village and was valued at 100 guineas (equivalent to approx £13,000 in todays money).

Many of J.J. Wilsons seascapes featured locations around the English Channel and in 1873 he was commissioned to paint a picture of Folkestone as a testimonial for the local Member of Parliament Baron Mayer de Rothschild in acknowledgment of the interest he had taken in the town – it is not known if the painting was ever completed as the Baron died in 1874.

J.J. Wilson died aged 57 in 1875 – it was initially unclear exactly where he died, and was thought to have been the village of Elham, but the anomaly is resolved as Elham was the registration district, and he had in fact died at home in Belle Vue House, The Bayle in Folkestone and the cause of death was given on his death certificate as Cirrhosis.

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