Sterling, Peter: William Gush, portrait painter (1813-1888)

William Gush was born on 23 April, 1813 at the family home, 28 Tabernacle Walk near the City of London in England. William was the eldest child of Aaron and Elizabeth Gush. As a child growing up in London, William showed an early talent for drawing and sketching and his parents encouraged his development. In 1824, at the age of 11, William became a copyist at the National Gallery in London. Over the next 10 years William’s talent grew as an artist and in 1833, at the age of 20, William Gush’s first painting was accepted to be hung in the Royal Academy Exhibition staged at the National Gallery. The subject of this portrait was Sir John Harrison Yallop, late mayor of Norwich. The same year William was awarded the Gold Isis Medal by the Society for Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce.

In 1835 William married Elizabeth Phillips Rollings at St John the Baptist Church in the London suburb of Hoxton. William’s career continued to prosper and he was kept very busy with commissions for portraits helping him to provide amply for his wife and growing family of five children.

In 1834, just before his marriage to Elizabeth, William was commissioned to paint a portrait of Reverend Richard Treffry for the cover of the monthly “Methodist Magazine”. Following the success of this first commission, Gush succeeded John Jackson R.A. as the chief portrait painter for the Wesleyan Connexion, and during the following thirty years some 270 of his portraits of leading preachers were reproduced as engravings in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine. In 1844 and 1845 William Gush contributed all the portraits of Methodist ministers published in the Wesleyan Magazine. In 1847 William bought a studio at 17 Stratford Place, an exclusive cul-de-sac situated off Oxford Street in London.

William’s success grew and by the end of his career he had exhibited 53 pictures at the Royal Academy, 4 at the British Institution and 2 others at the Suffolk Street Galleries. He has numerous pieces in the National Portrait Gallery in London and there are 354 known portraits painted by him.

In addition to the many paintings done in London, William Gush painted several portraits in Canada. In 1858 Gush sailed to Halifax and stayed about 4 months. During this time he painted several portraits of notable figures in the region. Two of these now hang in the Nova Scotian Legislature. These are the portraits of Sir William Fenwick Williams of Kars and the portrait of Sir John Inglis. Gush also painted Charles Frederick Allison, founder of Mount Allison University.

In 1865 William, Elizabeth and their daughter Rosalie moved out of London to the tranquility of the Surrey countryside. William and Elizabeth lived happily in Surrey until, after 46 years of marriage, Elizabeth died on 10 March, 1881. Elizabeth was buried in the churchyard at St John the Baptist Church in Malton. Seven years later, on 3 March, 1888 William Gush died and was buried with his wife in the graveyard at St John the Baptist in Malton, Surrey.

A link to some of William Gush’s paintings can be found at