Born in 1860, the son of a coachman, Elsley joined the South Kensington School of Art at the age of fourteen. In 1876 he became a probationer at the Royal Academy Schools, and submitted his first exhibit to the Royal Academy in 1878. By 1887 he was sharing a studio at 151 Gloucester Road, Kensington, with George Greville Manton, who later introduced Elsley to Fred Morgan. Elsley was to paint animals in Morgan's in succession to Allen Culpeper Sealey, and following the death of Charles Burton Barber in 1894, he would be considered the foremost painter of animals and children in the country. In 1900, following an estrangement with Morgan who accused him of stealing ideas for his pictures, Elsley started to execute works on a grander scale. He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1917, but thereafter painted less and less, due to his failing eyesight.
Golden Hours, originally titled, The First Ride, was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1903 (no. 391). The picture received great favor by the Royal Academy Hanging Committee who hung the work 'on the line' in Gallery VII. This would assure that the painting was strategically placed at eye level for superlative viewing. The London Magazine noted the early stages of Golden Hours with this charming anecdote: "One of those little misadventures to which child life is liable, happened in connection with The First Ride. The pony was painted at Hoddesdon, Herts., and Mr. Elsley arranged with the people to whom it belonged to get a child to sit on it, so that he might paint the pony and child together. The day appointed for the sitting was very wet, and, thinking that the parents would not allow the child to go out, he did not go into the country. Next day, however, he went. The pony was brought out. 'Where is the child?' he asked.
'Oh the child was here yesterday,' they said. 'But as we did not know you were coming to-day they did not send her up.' A messenger went for the little one, and returned with the answer, 'She can't come, for she's gone to the 'orspital with scarlet fever.'
Eventually a child was found to deputise for the original model. Mr. Elsley painted the pony, which he measured carefully, and on his return to London he reproduced the measurements by padding an apple-barrel, on which another child rode with supreme satisfaction to itself as a 'pretence gee'." (The London Magazine, London, December, 1904, p.632).
Elsley's expressive flare observed in his sentimental and playful pictures is epitomized in Golden Hours. Noted in the Summer of 1908 by Bibby's Quarterly: "Mr. Elsley is master of these bright scenes of childhood. He knows all the ingredients that compose the children's paradise; a pony and a dog, a lovely garden and romping spirits untouched by any shade of care. The original is owned by our good friends and neighbours Mr. Charles W. Ashcroft, Oxton, Birkenhead."