Claude Calthrop established himself as a history painter, drawing particularly on episodes of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. However, he turned increasingly to contemporary life, producing portraits and genre scenes, such as the present work, in a confident realist style. He made a particular speciality of social realist subjects involving seamstresses, comparable to those by his friend, Frank Holl. Claude Calthrop was born in Deeping St Nicholas, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, on 20 December 1844, the youngest son of James Thompson Calthrop, a farmer and grazier, and his wife, Edna (née Knowles). He was a brother of the celebrated actor, John Clayton (born John Alfred Calthrop), and uncle to John’s son, the painter and illustrator, Dion Clayton Calthrop.
From 1854, Calthrop attended the Merchant Taylors’ School, in the City of London. He then studied art at Lambeth School of Art (under John Sparkes) and the Royal Academy Schools.While at the latter, he won a silver medal for the best drawing from life (December 1864), and a gold medal and a scholarship for £50 for the best historical painting (on a subject from the Book of Job).
He began to exhibit at the Royal Society of British Artists (1864-77) and the Royal Academy (1867-93), and also showed one painting at the British Institution (1865). In this early period, he lived at 2 The Lawn, South Lambeth.
In 1868, Calthrop went to Paris for a year to continue his studies, and shared a studio with Thomas Davidson (his friend and fellow student from the RA Schools, who took lessons from Léon Bonnat). On his return, he settled first at 74 Newman Street, in the artists’ quarter north of Oxford Street, and then in Kensington, living at 41A Cathcart Road until 1874, when he moved a few streets away to 31 Coleherne Road, probably in preparation for his marriage. In 1875, he married Louisa Chance at Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire. They would have a son, Everard, and a daughter, Hope. His developing career was marked by critical praise from John Ruskin for his painting, Getting Better, which was exhibited at the RA in 1875.
He also exhibited internationally, including the Salon des Société des Artistes Français in Paris in 1891, and the Chicago Exhibition in 1893. By then, he and his family had moved to Beach House, Lower Mall, Hammersmith. While in Hammersmith, they became friends of the architect, Henry Shepard, and his children, who included E H Shepard (later famous as an illustrator). In his autobiography, Drawn from Life (1961), E H Shepard described Calthrop as ‘an outstanding painter’. More colourfully, a relative of Calthrop would recall the ‘very sporty, large checked manner of [his] dress and his frequent preoccupation with one or another religion’ (quoted by Sebastian Dobson in ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Everard Ferguson Calthrop (1876-1915)’, Hugh Cortazzi (ed), Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits, vol VIII, Leiden: Brill, 2013, page 86).
Claude Calthrop died on 18 April 1893, probably at Brancaster, Norfolk.