John William Kitson

John William Kitson

John William Kitson (1845 – 1888) was an English-born architectural sculptor.

Early life

Kitson, the third child and the first born son of John McWhire and Emma Jaggar Kitson was born in 1845 in Berry Brow Huddersfield West Yorkshire England. He was sent to London at the age of 14 as an apprentice to learn the art of stone and wood sculpturing. By 1870 he was living in Philadelphia with other architects and sculptors.

culptor career

Kitson was active in the United States 1867 - 1888 as a sculptor of wood and stone. He and his fellow Englishman Robert Ellin joined forces and created an archectural sculptors business Ellin & Kitson based in New York City 1867 - 1900.Fact|date=June 2007

According to family oral stories Robert Ellin and he decided to compete in a juried show for the 1876 centennial as Englishmen to set themselves apart from other entrants.Fact|date=June 2007 Their mahogany breakfront won an award and have been noted in articles about the 1876 centennial show.

Neither he nor his partner were known for fine art sculpture. Instead, their work was seen as a part of the exterior and interior of churches and commercial buildings.

Kitson has been attributed with carving stone columns of the National Art Institute NYC. These have been lost. His work is also seen in an upstairs meeting room of the Tilden Mansion now the National Arts Club a carved frieze of birds against a gold leaf ground. According to family oral history, he was known for his bird sculptures.Fact|date=June 2007 One of his beautiful breakfronts is still in family hands.

Kitson married late, to Mary Morrill, also known as May Kitson, whose family arrived in New Jersey from London, England about 1871. In February 1888 he died at the age of 43 of back injuries, leaving his 19 year old wife with a son age 5 and an infant daughter aged 8 months. He is buried in Woodlawn.


The Kitson Brothers all moved to the United States. Samuel James Kitson, a fine sculptor, attended the Rome Academy 1870 - 1873. He was employed by Ellin & Kitson while he developed his own career. Younger brother Harry Henry Hudson Kitson was sent at the age of 14 to apprentice with John William and Samuel James and then moved onto Paris for his sculpturing education. Youngest brother Robert Lewellen Kitson arrived in the United States following his mother's death in 1898. He was a watercolorist of whose work very little is known to survive.


*"In Pursuit of Beauty" catalogue Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC
*"New York Times" February 1888
*Family letters, photos and legal documents held by family historian

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