Born in Australia and brought up in Kirkcudbright in southwest Scotland, Hornel trained as a painter in Edinburgh and Antwerp. Through his friendship with George Henry, the two artists became important members of the Glasgow Boys, promoting the second, highly coloured decorative phase of the Boys between about 1880 and 1896. His masterpiece, Summer, acquired by Liverpool Corporation in 1892 amid intense controversy, propelled Hornel into the limelight and led to an invitation to exhibit his work in Brussels in 1893 alongside that of Rodin, Signac and Toulouse-Lautrec. In 1893-94 Henry and Hornel spent thirteen months painting in Japan; Hornel's subsequent exhibition in Glasgow was a triumph. His instantly recognisable later work of children playing in woods carpeted with snowdrops or wild hyacinths or among the burnet roses above the sea shore remain as popular as ever with collectors and the public alike.