Born and raised in England, John Antrobus immigrated to the United States and relocated many times, including a period in Louisiana, where he opened a studio and executed a series of landscape paintings.
Born in Warwickshire, England, in 1837, John Antrobus settled in New Orleans in 1859 after working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Savannah, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; the American West; and Mexico. He intended to make his mark in New Orleans by painting and exhibiting a series of twelve large panoramic paintings documenting characteristic scenes in Louisiana, but this ambitious project was interrupted by the Civil War. On April 27, 1860, Antrobus announced in the Daily True Delta that he was leaving the city for one of “the River Parishes.” Only two of his Louisiana panoramas were completed. The most famous of these, Plantation Funeral (1860), is based on a print that appeared in Harper’s Weekly. The other depicts Bayou Macon Plantation in East Carroll Parish. Antrobus exhibited these paintings at the St. Charles Hotel in 1860.
In the same vein as scenes of plantation life painted by Marie Adrien Persac, Antrobus’s paintings are remarkable testaments of social and economic life in the twilight years of the antebellum South. Antrobus clearly had some training. His compositions are sophisticated, even though his execution does not match in skill some of his contemporaries, such as Francisco Bernard, George David Coulon, T.S. Moise, or Victor Pierson.
On July 9, 1861, Lieutenant Antrobus, serving in the Confederate Southern Squadron, announced a new project to illustrate scenes from his battlefield deployments for the Daily Picayune. Though he enlisted in the Southern cause, he apparently changed allegiances. He returned to New Orleans long enough to marry Jeanne Watts, and then moved to Chicago, where he was among the first painters to portray Ulysses S. Grant. He also spent time in Washington, D.C. He spent the last part of his life working in Detroit, where he was considered among the city’s most fashionable portraitists. He also painted a number of Louisiana scenes, such as Mystic Louisiana Bayou Scene with White Heron (1889), long after leaving the state. Antrobus traveled to other Midwestern states, painting the official portrait of Minnesota Governor John S. Pillsbury in 1887, for example. He occasionally worked as a journalist, and his poem The Cowboy, written in the 1890s, appeared in many early twentieth-century anthologies. His daughter Suzanne was a novelist and playwright of some merit. He died in Detroit, Michigan on October 18,1907.