Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, John Wilson Carmichael was the son of a ship's carpenter and went to sea at a young age. He completed an apprenticeship with a ship builder, but then established himself as a drawing master and miniature painter. He subsequently became a successful marine painter, exhibiting work at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists.
In 1845 Carmichael moved to London, and in 1855 he accepted a commission to cover the Crimean War for the Illustrated London News. before becoming a marine artist. This trip resulted in his famous painting The bombardment of Sveaborg, 9 August 1855, now in the National Maritime Museum. He spent the last years of his life in Scarborough, where he died.
Carmichael's daughter Annie married William Luson Thomas, a well-known artist, engraver and publisher, and founder of the Graphic (1869). Along with E. W. Cooke and Clarkson Stanfield, Carmichael is considered one of the three most significant Victorian maritime artists.
The artists were attracted by the simplicity of the narrative created by the engraving works of John. Painting high rivers, depicting sceneries through his art, putting life in everyday happenings, and sketching the changing rivers and oceans are remembered to be the most habitual activities John had been doing throughout his career. Being a British maritime painter, John Wilson had a strong inclination toward the sea and its life. Carmichael went to sea at an early age and devoted his three years onboard a vessel sailing between ports in Spain and Portugal. On his return, he was selected for an apprenticeship. After getting done with his apprenticeship, he kept himself busy all his life with painting art, sketching different views, and creating eye-catching drawings.
Moreover, his name first appeared as an exhibitor in 1838, when he contributed and made oil paintings, shipping in the Bay of Naples, to the society of British artists. He is recalled as an aficionado of both oil paintings and watercolours at the Royal Academy. His contributions, including The Conqueror Towing Africa off the Shoals of Trafalgar (1841) and The Arrival of the Royal Squadron (1843), hold the audacity and majesty to be entitled as two of the greatest works of John Wilson. To add a few to his list, he published The Art of Marine Painting in Water-Colors in 1859 and The Art of Marine Painting in Oil-Colors in 1864. A few of these masterpieces were not only put forth for exhibition, but rather they are aesthetically recognized as the Jaw-dropping works for having influenced many of the pioneers at that time.
Sea for John was an inspiration, and that's the reason he spent most of his time perfecting his art through sketching and painting maritime scenes. Sealife, for him, was as essential as natural life for many romantic poets and artists. He justified his art gallery by decorating the sea and its depth on the walls.