John ('Spanish') Phillip was a genre painter. He was the son of a shoemaker. In the mid-1840s he married the younger sister of the painter Richard Dadd. Their son Colin Bent Phillip was a landscape painter and watercolourist.
Phillip began his career as an apprentice to a local house painter and later to a portrait painter. In 1836 he received a gift of £50 from William Ramsay Maule, Lord Panmure, enabling him to study under the painter Thomas Musgrove Joy and then at the Royal Academy Schools. There he joined a group of disenchanted young artists including P. H. Calderon, A. L. Egg, Richard Dadd, H. N. O'Neil and W. P. Frith, forming the Clique.
Phillip's early Scottish genre paintings show the influence of David Wilkie, e.g. Presbyterian Catechising (1847; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). Later, following trips to Spain in 1851, 1856 and 1860, he turned to colourful Spanish scenes, e.g. Spanish Gipsy Mother (1852; Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London). His manner became broader and more confident, and his colouring stronger and more luminous. Ruskin described his works as 'slightly vulgar' (Academy Notes, 1859). However, influenced by Velázquez, his later portraits were more restrained in palette, e.g. Kate Nickleby (1867; Aberdeen A.G.). Such works, in which the figure is silhouetted against a subdued background, are comparable to the mature portraits of JW. It is significant that in 1860 Phillip bought JW's At the Piano (YMSM 24).
Phillip was active exhibiting from 1838 to 1867, showing in London at the Royal Academy, British Institution and Society of British Artists, a society which was to elect JW its President in 1886. He also exhibited with the Royal Scottish Academy. Phillip was made an associate of the Royal Academy in 1857, becoming a full member 1860.
Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Carter, C., John Phillip R.A., Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, 1967; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1971; Irwin, D., and F. Irwin, Scottish Painters at Home and Abroad, 1700–1900, London, 1975; Irwin, Francina, 'John Phillip', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 26 February 2003).