John Skinner Prout, NWS (1805-1876) John Skinner Prout’s talent as a landscape painter led him to develop a fascinating career. Having first established himself as a ‘Picturesque Antiquarian’ in emulation of his uncle, Samuel, he then migrated to Australia, where he gained a pioneering position as both a topographical artist and a teacher and lecturer. On his return to England, he capitalised on his antipodean experience by presenting entertaining and educative dioramas and panoramas, while also producing a substantial body of watercolours of British and European scenes, which he exhibited as a leading member of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours. John Skinner Prout was born in Plymouth, Devon, on 19 December 1805, a son of John Prout and his wife, Maria (née Skinner), and a nephew of the watercolour painter, Samuel Prout. He was educated at Plymouth Grammar School. He was mainly self-taught as an artist, though he emulated the work of his uncle, in style and subject matter.
In 1827, he moved to Penzance, Cornwall, where he worked as a drawing teacher. A year later, he married the harpist and music teacher, Maria Heathilla Marsh, in Colaton Raleigh, Devon, and they spent the early years of their marriage in Penzance. They would have five daughters and five sons.
In 1831, Prout moved with his growing family to Bristol, and he established himself as a topographical watercolourist and lithographer, exhibiting with the Bristol Society of Artists from its first exhibition in 1832. Early in 1833, he helped found the Bristol Sketching Club, alongside William Evans, Samuel Jackson, W J Müller, T L Rowbotham and William West. He went on numerous sketching tours with Jackson and Müller, across southern England, and to Wales and Ireland. Back in Bristol, he prepared his first volume of lithographs, Picturesque Antiquities of Bristol, which was published by George Davey in 1834. Further sketching tours yielded the volumes, Antiquities of York, Antiquities of Chester and Castles and Abbeys of Monmouthshire. In 1838, he and his family moved to London and, in the same year, he was elected a member of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours. Across his career, it would become the main showcase for his work.
In 1840, Prout and his family migrated to New South Wales, in Australia, where relatives of his had already settled. During the next eight years, he excelled in the country as an artist, teacher and promoter of the fine arts. Settling first in Sydney, he was elected a member of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts in June 1841, and in the same month gave its members the first two of a number of lectures on painting. He imported a lithographic press from England and, in 1842, began to undertake series of lithographic views, beginning with Sydney Illustrated (1842-44), which was produced in collaboration with John Rae. In the same year, he also worked as a scene painter at the Olympic Theatre and as a drawing master at Sydney College, and began the first of several sketching tours in New South Wales. In October 1843, an exhibition of his work was held at Cetta & Hughes’s shop in George Street, and his paintings continued to appear in local loan exhibitions through the decade, courtesy of their owners.
In January 1844, Prout and his family moved to Hobart on the island of Van Diemen’s Land (which would be officially renamed Tasmania in 1856). While there, he befriended the expatriate artist, John Glover, and his family. As the result of sketching tours in Tasmania and Victoria, many made in the company of Francis Simpkinson, he achieved two further lithographic projects: Tasmania Illustrated (1844-47) and Views of Melbourne and Geelong (1847). During his visit to Melbourne, he delivered lectures on art at the local Mechanics Institute.
Following their return to England in 1848, Prout and his family settled in London, and from then on lived at various addresses in the area of Camden Town and Kentish Town. He was re-elected as associate (1849) and member (1862) of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours, and exhibited with it regularly and frequently. He made a name for himself with his Australian subjects, including much admired studies of giant tree ferns and at least two particularly ambitious works: A Grand Diorama of Australia (shown at the Western Literary Institution, in Leicester Square, in 1850) and the imaginary panorama, A Voyage to Australia, and a Visit to the Gold Fields (shown at 309 Regent Street, in 1852). From 1854 until his death, Prout continued to make summer sketching tours in Britain and on the Continent. The many works that he produced during this later period of more than two decades were executed in a style that absorbed the influences of J M W Turner and John Duffield Harding, as well as of fellow artists of the Bristol School.
John Skinner Prout died at his home, at 4 Leighton Crescent, Kentish Town, on 29 August 1876. His studio sale was held at Christie, Manson & Woods on 26 February 1877. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge); Yale Center for British Art (New Haven, CT); and the National Library of Australia (Canberra) and the StateLibrary of New South Wales (Sydney).
Further reading: Tony Brown, ‘John Skinner Prout’, Design & Art Australia Online, 2001; Tony Brown & Hendrik Kolenberg, Skinner Prout in Australia 1840-1848, Hobart: The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 1987; Huon Mallalieu, ‘Prout, John Skinner (1805-1876)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22843; Scott Wilcox, ‘Prout Family (2) John Skinner Prout (b Plymouth, 1806; d London, Aug 29, 1876)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 2003, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T069857