Sir John Gilbert was born at Blackheath on 21 July 1811, the son of Felix Gilbert, land and estate agent, of Blackheath Lane. Gilbert was employed as a clerk in the office of Dickson and Bell, estate agents, from 1833 to 1835. In 1836 he was introduced to the public as a painter at the gallery of the Society of British Artists in 1836. In 1838 he began commercial work as a black and white illustrator for Dean & Munday of Threadneedle street. He was a regular illustrator for The Illustrated London News beginning in the first number. The Magazine of Art estimated that he had done 30,000 cuts for that periodical alone.
Frank Jay related that “John Gilbert began his connection with THE LONDON JOURNAL in 1846, and it lasted -- with the exception of a few months interval first in 1850 and again in 1859 -- till the spring of 1863, when he abruptly, in the middle of a long serial story, announced his decision to retire finally from the practice of woodcut illustration.” His most famous illustrations to LJ were to the serials of John Frederick Smith, the author of the celebrated “Minnigrey,” but he also illuminated the melodramatic serials of Pierce Egan, Percy B. St. John, Watts Phillips, Mrs. Gordon Smythies, and Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth. J. F. Smith’s “Minnigrey” and “Stanfield Hall” were later issued in penny numbers by John Dicks, with wood-cut illustrations by the prolific artist. In 1849 he illustrated Ainsworth’s “Rookwood, a Romance,” for Routledge.
The sculptor Thomas Fowke told Ralph Thomas, a collector of Gilbert’s LJ woodcuts, that “a boy was sent down to Gilbert’s at Blackheath with the portion of the story for the next number of The London Journal, and that Gilbert read it, drew his illustration straight on the woodblock, and gave it to the boy to take back to him!”
Gilbert designed the fourth cover for Punch in 1843 and, for the same periodical, contributed the opening illustration to a spoof of LJ serials, Mokeanna; or, the White Witness, by Francis Cowley Burnand, for 21 February 1863. Gilbert worked with the Dalziel brothers on various classics of English Literature including Shakespeare, Malory, Bunyan, Scott and Dickens. Gilbert never married. He died at Ivy House, Blackheath, on October 5, 1897, and was buried in Lewisham Cemetery, in the family vault.
See photo of Sir John Gilbert HERE as well.
Gilbert illustrations to J. F. Smith's Minnigrey HERE.