Frank Owen Salisbury 1874 - 1962

'Britain's Painter Laureate'

Frank Salisbury

Report of a talk by Nigel McMurray, author of Frank Owen Salisbury: Painter Laureate

Francis Owen Salisbury was born in 1874 in a cottage next to his father’s bicycle repair shop and builders yard, situated near the present ‘Inn on the Green’ in Leyton Road, Harpenden.

When he was 15, Frank was apprenticed to his brother Henry James, who managed a stained glass workshop in Alma Road, St. Albans.  He gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy. He set up his first studio in Harpenden, and early in his career painted Sir Henry Gilbert, director of Rothamsted Agricultural Station. The portrait still hangs at Rothamsted Manor.  Sir Henry became one of Frank’s sponsors.

Frank married Alice Maud Greenwood, a St Albans girl, in 1901. Their first home – with a studio – was Elmkirk in Kirkwick Avenue, Harpenden. Twin daughters were born the following year.  Frank sketched them every day during their childhood, which meant working quickly. A few years later the family moved to Red Gables, a larger home and studio at West Common, now part of the Rothamsted estate.  In 1932 Frank commissioned his cousin to build a neo-Tudor mansion on Hampstead Heath which he called ‘Sarum Chase’. Many of his sitters would come there to his special studio with natural lighting. Frank Salisbury painted the leading society figures of his day on both sides of the Atlantic, including four US presidents and many industrialists. His specialism was large canvases of ceremonial events.

Frank Salisbury’s portrait of President Harry S Truman – Internet images

At the request of President Obama this portrait was hung in the White House Cabinet Room in 2009. It is on loan from the Harry S. Truman Museum & Library, Independence, Missouri.

His sitters included members of the royal family. He painted Winston Churchill more frequently than any other artist.

Frank Salisbury exhibited at the Royal Academy 70 times but was not elected a member. His favourite art form was stained glass: he was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass in 1933.

The art

Several works by Frank Salisbury may be seen around Harpenden. Prints of two of his great ceremonial paintings hang in the Town Hall: The Heart of the Empire, showing King George V and Queen Mary in St Paul’s Cathedral and The Coronation of their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. A painting entitled The Lady on Red, was presented to the town in 1981.

At High Street Methodist Church, where the Salisbury family worshipped, a beautiful stained glass window commemorates Frank’s parents and his brother Henry James. In the church hall are two more windows depicting The Good Shepherd and TheLight of the World.  Paintings with religious themes hang in the Church.

In the chapel at Highfield Oval, the east window is a memorial to 126 old boys of the NCH who died in WW1, whilst the west window portrays St. Christopher above a rainbow, surrounded by children’s faces.

A mural in St Nicholas Church, Harpenden illustrates the birth of Christ.

St Albans School holds four of Salisbury’s works which may be seen by appointment.

Information thanks to Nigel McMurray who gave a talk on Frank Salisbury illustrated with numerous slides on 31st October 2012 with additional research by Jean Gardner. This talk dealt with his work as a portrait artist .

Comments about this page

  • The four paintings which formerly hung in High Street Methodist Church are now on permanent loan to St Albans School.
    I wonder if these are the 4 referred in your final sentence?
    Ed: Yes these are the four paintings, two of which are illustrated in the link within this Comment.

    By Pamela Atkins (28/11/2023)
  • Theodora Wilson makes references in her Journals to her mother, Mrs Jessie Wilson, sitting for Frank Salisbury in 1910: “Mother and Aunt Phoebe are in at Frank Salisbury’s [Red Gables] enjoying a holiday too. Mother is sitting for her portrait and Aunt Phoebe is thoroughly enjoying the pretty warm artistic’s surroundings.” 4 January 1910, Theodora’sJournals, p 120.

    On 14 August 1918, Theodora records a visit to the Royal Academy: “I wanted to see Frank Salisbury’s picture of ‘The King at the Front’ – not from any great expectations of artistic pleasure but from loyalty and interest in our local artist who has climbed so quickly and so simply to a high place in the artists’ world. But his forte is not pictures but portraits, as was abundantly exemplified in the contrast between the fashion-plate effect of the big cartoon and the really good study portrait of the King below it …” (TJ, p.157)

    By Rosemary Ross (12/11/2013)
  • I am researching the firm of E Hooker (St Albans) Ltd, and the founder Ernest Edward Hooker was also apprenticed to H J Salisbury at a similar time. I wondered whether anyone knows of any useful archives which may give information of what such an apprenticeship would involve. Many thanks.

    By Jackie Mcall (16/04/2013)

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