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John Sowden Self-Portrait

The Life Of John Sowden

As a young boy Sowden was keen to become a professional artist, but his initial training was as an architect with the firm George Knowles. By the middle of the 19th century Sowden’s father, William, had become a substantial property owner and developer and was able to support his son’s artistic aspirations, whilst encouraging Sowden to earn an income and not be dependent on family wealth. 

In 1855 Sowden began attending evening art classes at the Mechanics Institute in Bradford. After graduating he replaced James Lobley as the Art Master for the Institute and was appointed second master of the Bradford School of Design.

By the early 1860s Sowden had set up as a professional artist and landscape painter on Stirling Street, Bradford. He painted for Edward Salt, Isaac Holden and Henry Mason. He became president of the Bradford Art Society and, as master of the school of Art and president of the Art Society, he was able to influence artists such as Ernest Sichel. Sowden exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863 with his watercolour ‘May Blossom and Nest’. 

His final Royal Academy show, in 1892, was titled ‘Whitby from Larpool’. Sowden worked as a private artist in the mornings and continued to give classes in the afternoons and evenings at the Art School. 

John Sowden
John Sowden Self-Portrait, aged 71

On his father’s death in 1875, Sowden took control the family firm, purchasing inner city sites for mills and residential development, building warehousing accommodation and he was an early speculator in Little Germany. Sowden and his partner George Brown, purchased the White Swan Inn for a new Victorian shopping arcade which became known as Swan Arcade. He was a keen traveller, touring the Continent and into Northern Europe. 

In 1886 he married Anne Bowes and moved to a house on Blenheim Rd, Manningham. By the 1880s Sowden was Headmaster of the Mechanics Institute School of Art. In the early 20th century he became vice president of the Yorkshire Union of Artists and committee member of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society. He also became director of the Mechanics Institute, the East Morley Savings Bank and the Bradford Third Equitable Building Society.

John Sowden died 16th January 1926, aged 87.

Now go and enjoy the rest of the John Sowden Portraits Collection!