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 Francis Owen Salisbury  (1874 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia / United Kingdom      Known for: portrait-notables and history painting

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Frank Owen Salisbury
An example of work by Francis Owen Salisbury
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Francis Owen Salisbury (18741962) was an artist from Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England who specialized in portraits, murals and stained glass. He was initially employed repairing bicycles in his father's Cycle Depot and his first studio as a professional painter was in an attic loaned by his uncle. Nevertheless, at the height of his career, he became known as Britain's "Painter Laureate" and his sitters at 'Sarum Chase', his neo-Tudor mansion-studio in Hampstead, were the leading figures of his day.

He trained at Heatherley's Art School and the Royal Academy Schools where the visiting lecturers included Edwin Austin Abbey, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, J. Seymour Lucas, Sir William Blake Richmond and John Singer Sargent. His career as a portraitist commenced with his painting the Hertfordshire gentry and their children. He progressed to painting royalty, aristocrats, clerics, politicians, mayors, financiers and businessmen. Notable portraits include those of HM George V, Winston S. Churchill, Montgomery of Alamein, J. Pierpont Morgan Jr., Mackenzie King, Benito Mussolini, Sir Henry Wood, Richard Burton and five Presidents of the USA. The White House portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is by Salisbury. From the 1920s he enjoyed enormous success in the USA in Chicago, New York and Washington where he painted over six hundred portraits.

His specialty was large canvases of historical and ceremonial events. These are located in Buckingham Palace, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Palace of Westminster, Royal Exchange, Guildhall Art Gallery and the RAF Museum in the UK and in The Pentagon in the USA. Salisbury was a pacesetter in the painting of murals in British public buildings and few of his contemporaries had his organizational skills or were willing to tackle such vast projects.

A great anomaly in Salisbury's life was that although he had pacifist tendencies, his rise to fame came primarily as a consequence of his First World War art. A major breakthrough was his being commissioned to paint "The Boy Cornwell at the Battle of Jutland" by The Admiralty. Then came a great adventure to the Western Front when, as Honorary Colonel Salisbury, he painted the large mural "King George V and Queen Mary Visiting the Battlefields." He painted two large murals of the first Remembrance Day and designed five war memorials. In the Second World War his emphasis shifted to the RAF. His love of the USA was manifest in his being commissioned to paint the large canvas "The Dedication of the American Roll of Honor in St. Paul's Cathedral" presently hanging in The Pentagon.

Salisbury was a Methodist and his Christian faith underpinned his art. He was a great benefactor of clergy and of all the mainstream denominations. One of the largest collections of his art is at Wesley's Chapel Methodist Church in Islington, London. His commissions came not only from Methodists but also from Anglicans, the Salvation Army, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics.

Stained glass was his favourite visual art form and he designed over thirty-five windows including the largest area of stained glass in the Indian sub-continent at the Medak Cathedral in Hyderabad. In 1933 he was elected Master of the Glaziers Company. His constant use of allegory and symbolism sets his work apart in an art then dominated by portraiture and narrative.

He reckoned that art should always reflect the best in life and he was a devastating critic of Modern Art referring to its paintings as "a daring masquerade" and its sculptures as "a masses of deformity". He was a critic not only of the avant-garde but also of the arts establishment, in that although he exhibited seventy eight times at The Royal Academy, he was a severe critic of some of its policies. None of this augured well for a place in posterity. His leaving 'Sarum Chase' to the British Council of Churches proved disastrous; the Council sold it and then arranged for Christie's to auction its contents, and so there is no one major collection of his art.

Salisbury is buried in Harpenden parish churchyard alongside his wife, Maude. The weather has taken its toll on the small gravestone and so Frank O. Salisbury, the court painter of Britain who achieved the American Dream, is buried in what is virtually an unmarked grave.


Chicago Historical Society, Clark Street at North Avenue, Chicago, Ill 60614 6099, USA. 312 642 4600.

National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE, UK. 020 7306 0055.

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, 122 East 58th Street, New York, NY 10022 1939, USA. 212 755 8532.

The Palace of Westminster (House of Lords), Parliament Square, London SW1A 0PW, UK. 020 7219 3000. (Open to the public by appointment only.)

Royal Air Force Museum, Grahame Park Way, Hendon, London NW9 5LL, UK. 020 8205 2266.

Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA, UK. (Not open to the public.)

Wesley's Chapel, 49 City Road, London EC1Y 1AU, UK. 020 7253 2262.

World Methodist Museum, 575 Lakeside Drive, Lake Junaluska, NC 28745, USA. 828 456 9432.

Information submitted June 2004 and written by Nigel McMurray, a Heritage Steward at Wesley's Chapel in London, which has the largest collection of Salisbury's works. McMurray is a librarian and the author of the recently published book "Frank O. Salisbury. Painter Laureate."

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