John James Chalon, RA OWS (1778-1854), christened Jean-Jacques Chalon
The Swiss-born artist, John James Chalon, developed a close partnership with his brother, Alfred Edward, and together they became central to the London art scene. John James became particularly well known as a painter of landscapes and coastal scenes in oil and watercolour. He developed these drawings made on sketching tours – and especially those of the Thames and Wye Valleys and the south coast of England. John James Chalon was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 March 1778, the elder son of Jean-Jacques Chalon, a Huguenot watchmaker. The family left Switzerland in 1794, during troubles arising from the French Revolution, and moved first to Ireland before settling in England. Jean-Jacques Chalon was appointed Professor of French at the Royal Military Academy – probably at Marlow, and then certainly at Sandhurst – retiring in 1817.
The Chalon family lived at 8 Church Street, Kensington, London, and played host to a number of Swiss artists visiting or settling in England.
These included François Ferrière and Jacques-Laurent Agasse, the latter arriving in London in 1800, and becoming a close friend of John James and his younger brother, Alfred Edward. (See Agasse’s group portrait, The Chalon Family, in the collections of Yale Center for British Art, for a record of his stay in Kensington.) Jean-Jacques Chalon wanted his sons to enter a career in trade, and so placed each in a large commercial establishment. However, his plan did not succeed, and they soon entered the Royal Academy Schools, John in 1796 and Alfred in 1797. The artists would live together and, sharing a close fraternal bond, never marry. Sometimes, they worked together on the same image, John providing the landscape and Alfred the figures.
In 1800, John James Chalon began to exhibit oils at the Royal Academy. Six years later, in 1806, he was elected one of the first associates of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (founded in 1804). A year after that, in 1807, he was elected a full member, but resigned in 1812, following a short-lived reformation of the society, when it became known as the Society of Painters in Oils and Watercolours.
In 1808, J J Chalon helped found the Society for the Study of epic and Pastoral design, with his brother, A E Chalon, and Francis Stevens. The other founder members were Michael Sharp, William Turner of Oxford, Cornelius Varley and Thomas Webster, with Henry Pierce Bone joining them at the second meeting. The society was later known as the Bread and Cheese Society and then the Chalon Sketching Society, until its demise in 1851. Other leading members included C R Leslie and Clarkson Stanfield, while Agasse, John Constable and Washington Irving were among the visitors and exhibitors.
A fine draughtsman, J J Chalon had an extensive practice as a drawing master and contributed illustrations to various annuals. Many of his drawings contain elements of caricature, and the pure caricatures that he produced, often in freely handled brown wash, are even more accomplished than those by his brother. In 1819 or 1820, he visited Paris, and produced the set of lithographs, Twenty-four subjects exhibiting the Costume of Paris, which was published in 1822.
In 1816, J J Chalon exhibited his best known work in oil, The ‘Bellerophon’ with Napoleon at Plymouth, at the Royal Academy, and subsequently gave it to Greenwich hospital. (It is now in the collections of the National Maritime Museum.) he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1827, and – following some pressure by his brother – a full Royal Academician in 1841. Between 1806 and 1853, the Chalon brothers lived in an artistic quarter north of Oxford Street, with addresses at 23 Charles Street, north of the present Berners Street (1806-8); 43 Great Titchfield Street (1809-11); 71 Great Titchfield Street (1812-16); 11 Great Marlborough Street (1817-25); 42 Great Marlborough Street (1826-39) and 10 Wimpole Street (1840-53). For some periods, they shared their accommodation with their father and unmarried sister. In 1847, J J Chalon suffered a paralytic seizure, and began to decline both physically and mentally. A E Chalon nursed him until he died on 14 November 1854. Earlier that year, the brothers had moved to El Retiro, Campden Hill, Kensington. his close friend, C R Leslie, wrote the obituary that appeared in The Art Journal in January 1855. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A.
Further reading Patrick Conner, ‘Chalon’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 6, page 402; Lionel Lambourne, The Chalon Brothers, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981; Ernest Radford, rev Raymond Lister, ‘Chalon, John James (1778-1854)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 10, pages 889-890