The son of an Aberdeen shoemaker, John Phillip was at first apprenticed to a painter and glazier. Showing an early aptitude for portrait painting, a local artist introduced him to Lord Panmure who supported him through the Royal Academy schools, London. During the 1840s Phillips produced Scottish genre paintings in the style of Sir David Wilkie, but in the 1850s he made several visits to Spain, marking a turning-point in his career and earning him the name, Spanish Phillip. Influenced by Murillo and Velasquez, paintings from this period led to commissions from Queen Victoria. John Phillip died at home in Kensington, London.