Sir John probably did more paintings and illustrations for Shakespeare than any other artist in the nineteenth century. According to Geoffrey Ashton, he produced illustrations for eighteen separate editions of the plays, exhibited forty-five Shakespearean subjects for the Old Water Colour Society (from 1852 to 1888), and exhibited six paintings at the Royal Academy. One of his most ambitious projects was the illustrating of Howard Staunton's three-volume edition of the plays, The Works of Shakespeare (1864). He drew about twenty illustrations for each play (a total of almost 750 pictures) that were integrated into the text rather than printed as individual plates, which was the usual practice (Ashton, Shakespeare's Heroines in the Nineteenth Century, the Buxton Art Gallery, 1980, p. 22).
He was elected President of the Old Water Colour Society in 1871, and Queen Victoria knighted him in 1872.