A painter of Impressionism, set designer and teacher, John Thomas Rowell was born at Carlton, Melbourne, to George Rowell, a butcher, and his wife Margaret, née Nightingale. His first school was Faraday Street State School, Carlton.
John Rowell worked at the King's Theatre, Melbourne in 1908, and then apprenticed to a scene-painter. He also studied art at West Melbourne Technical School and at the National Gallery School, in 1912-17. He married, Eugenie Bertha Durran, also a student at the school.
Rowell was a teacher at West Melbourne Technical School and at Ballarat School of Mines. From 1929 to 1947, he was senior painting master at Melbourne Technical College. Other jobs including being a senior examiner of art for the Education Department and illustrated textbooks. In 1937-38 Rowell and his family toured England and Europe and he was greatly impressed by the works of Corot, Velasquez,
Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet and Turner. While in London, he was awarded a
Carnegie grant that allowed him to travel in North America.
With his brother Will Rowell, he also did stage scenery, sets and costumes for the King and National theatres.
In October, 1917, he had the first of many one-man exhibitions of his work, and this one was held at the Upper Athenaeum Hall. Other venues were in Melbourne, Adelaide,
Sydney and Brisbane. His work was represented in the 1923 Exhibition of Australian Art in London, and his painting, Monarchs of the Soil, was selected for the 1928 Imperial Art Exhibition in London. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts,
London (1936, 1938), and in Paris, Dublin and Glasgow, and was a fellow
of the Royal Society of Arts, London (1937), and member of the Royal
Institute of Oil Painters, London. He was commissioned to paint the
coronation of King George VI.
He died on 14 November 1973 at Mornington.
Australian Dictionary of Biography Online