Private Collection, United Kingdom
Hornel was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia and shortly after in 1866 his parents moved back to the artistic town on Kirkcudbight in Scotland where he remained for most of his life.
He studied for three years at Edinburgh Art School, and at Antwerp for two years under Professor Verlat, a successful Belgian painter at the time. Returning from Antwerp in 1885, Hornel met George Henry and associated himself with the ‘Glasgow Boys.’ This group sought to move painting away from the saccharine sweetness of traditional Victorian style, through the use of soft colour and a sense of naturalism.
Hornel and Henry collaborated upon ‘The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe’ (1890), a procession of druidic priests bringing in the sacred mistletoe, gorgeous with polychrome and gold. The two worked side by side to achieve decorative splendour of colour, Hornel boldly and freely employing texture effects produced by loading and scraping, roughening, smoothing, and staining. In 1893–94 the two artists spent a year and a half in Japan, where Hornel learned much about decorative design and composition. This time was very formative for both artists, who took on many Japanese elements in their proceeding work. In 1901, Hornel declined election to the Royal Scottish Academy. A member of Glasgow Art Club, Hornel exhibited in the club’s annual exhibitions throughout his career.
In 1901 he acquired Broughton House, a townhouse and garden in Kirkcudbright, which was his main residence for the rest of his life with his sister Elizabeth. There he made several modifications to the house and designed a garden taking inspiration from his travels in Japan. He also added a gallery for his paintings. Upon his death, the house and library were donated for the benefit of the citizens and Broughton House is now administered by the National Trust for Scotland.