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John Gilbert, illustrator and painter, was born in Blackheath, London. In 1833, he entered Dickson and Bell, estate agents in Charlotte Row, as a clerk but left after two years to pursue an artistic career. He attended classes taught by George Lance but was largely self-taught.

Gilbert first exhibited in 1836 with the Society of British Artists. He went on to exhibit at the British Institution in 1837 and the Royal Academy between 1838 and 1851. He became an associate of the Old Watercolour Society in 1852, a full member in 1854, and president in 1871; receiving a knighthood for his achievements in 1872. The same year he became an associate of the Royal Academy, becoming a full academician in 1876. In 1878, Doge and Senators of Venice won Gilbert the Legion d’honneur at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Despite his success in painting, Gilbert’s primary occupation was as a book illustrator, collaborating with poets including Longfellow (1858), Scott (1857), Wordsworth (1859), and Milton (1864); as well as The Pilgrim's Progress (1860), Don Quixote (1872), and Howard Staunton’s edition of Shakespeare. He contributed wood-engraved drawings to Punch and the London Journal, as well as another 30,000 engravings to the Illustrated London News.

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