Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Art in Scotland
Chapter IX


DURING much of the time in which the printers of Glasgow were endeavouring to foster the cultivation of art at home to the detriment of their business, Gavin Hamilton was occupying a very prominent position as an artist at Rome. He was one of the most distinguished of the early Scottish artists, and was descended from the ancient Hamiltons of Murdieston in Lanarkshire, thus being connected with the ducal house of that name.

Of his early study in this country nothing seems to be known. He set out for Italy before he had reached the age of manhood, and studied under Augustini Mosucchi at Rome, for which city he contracted such an affection that his country saw no more of him than an occasional visit, caused by a lingering and recurring desire to settle in his native Lanarkshire—an intention always abandoned on experiencing the contrast of the climate of Scotland with that of Italy. On one of these visits he had actually given orders for building a studio in Lanark; but in addition to the uncongenial climate, it is probable that he saw no signs of encouragement or appreciation of art in any other form than portrait-painting, while he was steeped to the eyes in classical and ancient art. During one or two of these visits he executed several portraits, including two stately full-lengths of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, the latter with a greyhound, reproduced in a once popular engraving. He had also commenced another portrait of the Duchess, formerly the celebrated beauty Miss Gunning, in which the likeness was so successfully caught at the first sitting that the Duke would not permit him to carry it any further.' The same collection includes a canvas containing portraits of the Duke, Dr John Moore and his son, afterwards Sir John Moore, half- lengths, the latter sitting. At Newhall House was a girl's head, with a fur tippet round her neck, probably a family portrait. His greatest works, however, were a series of pictures from the 'Iliad,' which have been dispersed into different parts of Europe, and can now only be seen together in the engravings by Cunego, executed under his own supervision, as indeed all his other engraved works were. In 1770 he exhibited, at the Royal Academy, Agrippina weeping over the Ashes of Germanicus, and the Heralds leading Briseis from the Tent of Achilles; followed in 1776 by Mary Queen of Scots resigning her Crown, and a Hygia in 1788.2 Of the Homeric series only two or three came to Britain—the Hector and Andromache passing into the Hamilton Palace collection, and the Achilles dragging the Body of Hector into that of the Duke of Bedford. In connection with the latter picture, it is related that the Marquis of Tavistock, the young heir to the Duke, having fallen from his horse, was killed by being dragged along the ground by his startled steed, his foot having got entangled in the stirrup. The bereaved father, who could not endure to have beside him a picture the subject of which so vividly recalled the cause of his son's death, sold it to General Scott for a moderate sum. Another of Hamilton's pictures, the Death of Lucretia, came into the possession of the Earl of Hopetoun. For the Prince Borghese he decorated a saloon in his villa with a series of compartments, in the ceiling and alcoves of which was represented the story of Paris.

His style of art is distinguished by a severe classic conventionalism, violent action, rather dramatic expression, leaden and monotonous in colour. But for the unfortunate tone of his colour he might have surpassed all his Italian contemporaries. This defect in his work is said to have been partly induced by the want of a proper guide while pursuing his Roman studies, possibly accentuated by his veneration for the antique severity, and more apparent when so many were painting on a scale of artificial brilliancy. Aware of this himself, he endeavoured as far as possible to overcome it, but could not paint nature otherwise than as he saw it—a declaration which he is said to have made with tears in his eyes on overhearing the remarks of some friends in his studio. Like the French David, he was carried away by the movement then taking place at Rome, where Canova was endeavouring to reform the art of sculpture, and Raphael Mengs by his painting and criticism was making efforts to revive the style of his great namesake of Urbino.

But though thus deficient in one of the greatest qualities necessary to success as a painter, he rendered the most valuable services to art. Although almost unknown in his own country, he was flattered by the Continental critics; Voltaire and Metastasio were lavish in his praise, and he is said to have been copied by Mengs. When the young Canova left his native village of Possagno amidst the Asolani hills in the Venetian Alps, and showed his works for the first time in the house of the Venetian ambassador at Rome, the Scottish painter was the first who gave him outspoken praise, exciting his ambition, and at the same time predicting the future greatness of the young sculptor. A close friendship sprang up between the two artists, and Canova was always pleased to acknowledge, in terms of grateful remembrance, the kind encouragement and counsel which Hamilton afforded him in the difficulties of his early career.

In his "Schola Italica Pictura," engraved by Cunego, forming part of the collection of Piranesi, and published at Rome in 1773, he traces the progress of the styles of painting in Italy from Leonardo da Vinci to the time of the Caracci. This was done partly with a view to assist the rising generation of artists, and the forty drawings which were made by himself were engraved under his close personal supervision. He is perhaps, however, most distinguished by the services which he has rendered to the progress of the fine arts, in having brought to light many of the buried treasures of antiquity, to which he mainly devoted the latter part of his life. With the permission of the Papal Government, obtained about 1770, in conjunction with Mr James Byres, architect, and Mr Thomas Jenkins, an English banker at Rome, he made excavations and opened buried chambers in various places in the Roman States. In the course of this work he made numerous very valuable finds in the Tor Columbaro, at Albani, Velletri, Ostia, and Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. Among the ruins of ancient Gab ii he discovered a Diana, Germanicus, Pan, several rich columns of Verd-antique and Marino fiortio, busts, &c.; besides the old frescoes there, which owe their preservation to his care, and which are said to surpass the others found in Italy. The treasures which he thus found among the rubbish and substructures of the old city of Gabii, were purchased by the Prince Borghese, to whom as lord of the soil one-third of the booty belonged, and who erected a classic edifice for their accommodation, the museum Gabinium, in a grove near his villa.' So successful was Hamilton in this direction, that the superstitious Romans circulated a report that he had sold his soul to the devil, in consideration of which his Satanic majesty had undertaken to point out by the hopping of a blue flame, the exact spots under which the works of ancient art were buried.

At the time in which Hamilton was engaged in the excavations at Palestrina, the opulent Duke of Braschi, a nepote of the Pope, was collecting antiques for his recently finished palace, regardless of expense. He had previously commissioned Hamilton to find a colossal statue as an indispensable item in his collection. The discovery of a colossal Antinous was happily timed, and the Duke unhesitatingly gave him the price of 9000 scudi, which was received with the assurance that, to any other than a nepote of the Holy Father, the price would have been doubled. It is said that on the discovery of this fine work of art the enthusiasm of the cognoscenti and others at Rome was so great that its praises were sung in sonetti and canzone; while Visconti pronounced it the finest statue which had hitherto been discovered of the so often and so variously sculptured favourite of Adrian. Many of the best collections in Germany, Russia, and England, inclusive of the Townley portion of the British Museum, have been enriched by his discoveries, and his contributions in statues, busts, and bas- reliefs in the 1useo-Pio-C1ementino rank second only to the famed treasures of the Belvidere.

He was the first Scottish artist who gained the gold medal of the Academy of St Luke at Rome, where he maintained his studio in much of the dignity and state of the great old Italian masters, and in which he was always ready to receive and advise budding Raphaels with introductory letters from his own country. Almost unknown as he was in Scotland, rumours of his greatness in Rome must no doubt have excited the ambition of the rising generation of artists in his own land to follow his example. That he was not totally unrecognised, we have evidence in the fact that he was elected a corresponding member of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries on the 6th November 1781, and his name appears with that of Jacob More as one of the associated artists of that institution. He was a man of great benevolence and liberality of character, and his death, which occurred in 1797, is said to have resulted from extreme anxiety for the safety of the art treasures of Rome during the French occupation. His bust in marble, executed after death, is in the picture-gallery of the Hunterian Museum of Glasgow University.

Another distinguished Scottish artist practising in Italy, and contemporaneous with Hamilton, was Jacob More, born in Edin- burgh about 1740. He is one of those artists who rose from obscurity, having served an apprenticeship to some mechanical trade, at the expiry of which he entered into a second apprenticeship, this time with Norrie, the Edinburgh painter and decorator already mentioned. Here he learned something of the art of landscape-painting, more especially from Alexander Runciman, his junior in years, who was also in Norrie's service, and then an enthusiast in that branch of art. About 1770 or 1773 he was enabled to go to Italy, mainly by the patronage of Mr Alexander, a banker in Edinburgh, and Chief Baron Montgomery, where he rapidly assumed a position as a landscape-painter, and was visited by Goethe in 1787, who was attracted by his works.' He seems to have waited some time in London, as it is mentioned that Sir Joshua Reynolds on seeing his works was so much pleased with them that he gave him an order for several pictures, and with the liberality which at all times marked the character of that great artist, warmly recommended him to some of the nobility, by whom he was afterwards patronised.

From Rome, in 1783, he sent to the Royal Academy in London a View of the Cascade at Terni, and a View of the Campania from Tivoli with Mecenas's Villa and the: Cascatella; in the following year the name of -- Moore, a form in which it was sometimes spelled, is in the same exhibition attached to the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in which the elder Pliny lost his life; in 1785, to the same exhibition he contributed a Landscape Composition, and Castle Gandolfo; in 1786, a View on the Coast of Sicily, and another of the Campagna of Rome; in 1788, the Deluge, and an Eruption of Mount Vesuvius with the Story of the Pious Brothers of Catania; and in 1789, a Moonlight, and View near Rome,—all contributed from that city. Sometime later he painted a large view of Rome as seen from the Capitol, for Prince Augustus of Britain, and about the same time several of his pictures passed into the collections of the Earl of Bristol, Sir John Stuart of Allanbank, and Thomas Wharton. In Cririe's 'Scottish Scenery,' I George Walker, an artist and teacher of art in Edinburgh, is mentioned as having in his possession, presumably for sale, the Falls of Tivoli, Falls of Clyde, a Storm, Sun-setting, &c. The then possessor of these pictures states that for his smallest paintings More received thirty-five guineas, eighty for those of a middling size, and a hundred and twenty guineas for each of the largest—adding, probably with a view to enhancing the value of his own possessions, "they are now invaluable," More having previously died. The Newhall House list of pictures included two sketches out of his usual line—a Hermit reading in a Cave, and Silenus drinking from a Cup held by a Satyr; besides two landscapes, described as "an old tree hung with ivy on the foreground, cave on the right, a white modern mansion with a tower under shower of rain beyond it, without figures," and "a seaport with high tower in the foreground." After his death, John Land- seer engraved in 1795 twenty views by More of the south of Scotland.

In Italy, More is principally known by having been, after Hamilton, employed in decorating one of the apartments of the magnificent villa of the Prince Borghese, near the Porta Pinciano, which he enriched by paintings of landscape, described as being distinguished by a considerable degree of classic feeling, with much of the taste, character, and even handling of Richard Wilson. He is also credited with having laid out the gardens of the same villa. Between 1752 and 1755, it is said he read before a literary society, which met in the College of Glasgow, three essays, printed by Foulis in 1759. These were on the "Influence of Philosophy on the Fine Arts," the "Composition of the Picture described in the Dialogue of Cebes," and "Historical Composition." "On the ist October 1793, Jacob More breathed his last at Rome, sincerely lamented by all the lovers of the fine arts—indeed by all who had the honour and happiness of his acquaintance" —having succumbed to an attack of fever. He left considerable property to his relatives.

There is some reason for assuming that More made a visit to Edinburgh during his residence at Rome, as his name appears on the register of the Cape Club, along with other notable men of talent, including those of Norrie, Alexander Runciman, and Henry Raeburn. The Cape Club was one of the most celebrated existing in Edinburgh during the early prevalence of high-i inks, and associated its name with the custom of the president or sovereign of the club, who wore a decorated cape: he knighted his vassals by using a poker instead of a sword, dubbing the members at the same time with fanciful names. It was probably the same club as "the Poker" which David Hume attended in 1763, continuing for some years after the death of Hume in 1776, and which met in Fortune's Tavern every Friday, with no other object, so far as we know, than the consumption of claret. As More seems to have left Scotland not later than 1773, and his name appears at about the same time as that of Raeburn as a member, it is not likely that the latter, who would then be only seventeen years old, would be placed on its register at that age.

An artist who is only known in his native country by the obscure preservation of his name as a Scotchman was Charles Cunningham, who on account of indications of talent was sent by his friends to Rome, where he studied under Raphael Mengs. He subsequently went to Russia, where he executed some historical paintings for Prince Potemkin. "His success was so brilliant that he resolved to settle in St Petersburg; but the rigour of the climate affected his health, and he was obliged in consequence to quit Russia. The glory surrounding the name and deeds of Frederick the Great allured him to Prussia. Soon after his arrival at Berlin he became a member of the Academy of the Fine Arts, and painted several pictures, the subjects of which were taken from Prussian history, and of which Frederick was generally the hero. Of these, the battle of Hochkirk, fought October i, 1758, in which Frederick was surprised by Marshal I)aun and defeated, was the most celebrated." It is further mentioned of him that the Prussian king, Frederick William II., in recognition of the merit of this work, had put down his name for the first vacancy on the pension list; but Cunningham died before a vacancy occurred, in 1789, at the age of forty-eight.

The books of the before-mentioned Cape Club contain, among other marginal memoranda, some sketches by Alexander Runciman, whose club title was the expressive one of "Sir Brimstone." He was an artist of strong poetic feeling, much power, and unbounded enthusiasm. He is styled by the intelligent author of the 'Letters from Edinburgh,' "the Sir Joshua Reynolds of this country, and whose invention is perhaps equal to that of any painter in Europe " but he was one of those ill-starred geniuses whose lives have burned away in high endeavour. His father James was an architect and builder, who married Mary Smith at Kilwinning in 1735. Alexander was born on the 15th August of the following year, and the old family Bible register gives the further information that he was baptised by John Walker, minister, Canongate (Edinburgh), in addition to the precise date of his death. Showing an early love and talent forart, his father placed him at the age of fourteen in the studio or workshop of J. & R. Norrie, with whom he served for five years; and it was probably after this that he attended the quite recently established academy of the Foulises of Glasgow, for what period is not known. His desire at this time was to follow the landscape branch of the art, in which he was so enthusiastic that one of his contemporaries has remarked that while others were talking of meat and drink Runciman talked landscape. He is also said to have attended the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, but could have received little benefit from the very elementary instruction afforded by that institution, as, when its classes were first opened in 1760, he was launching into historical painting. Six years later, when about the age of thirty, he was enabled through the assistance of Sir James Clerk, whose notice he had attracted when working as a youth at Penicuik House, to set off for Italy with a very much larger stock of enthusiasm than money. In Rome he early contracted an intimacy, which soon ripened into friendship, with Fuseli, whose style of art was so similar that the work of the one might easily be mistaken for the other—Runciman, however, being by far the superior in colour.

After a busy five years spent in hard study at Rome, he returned to Edinburgh in 1771, when he was appointed master of the Trustees' Academy, at a salary of Li 2o per annum. Here the class of work expected from him could not have been very congenial to one of his lofty aims and enthusiastic temperament; but the salary attached to the office, and the few hours during which the class was in operation, enabled him to practise his art comparatively unencumbered by any great anxiety as to his means of living. During this time he painted numerous pictures. At the Royal Academy in London he exhibited in 1772 and in 1774 an Ossianic subject, and the Prodigal Son, for which with ominous fitness the poet Fergusson sat as a model. In 1781, to the same exhibition he contributed the Parting of Lord and Lady Russell, the Quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, the Landing of Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus, and Orlando and Oliver from "As You Like It"; and in the following year, Mary Queen of Scots signing the Papers at Lochieven Castle. Among his other pictures may be enumerated the Shade of Agandecca appearing to Fingal in a Dream, from the fourth book of Fingal, the Three Witches appearing to Macbeth and Banquo, and Cadmus receiving Instructions from Minerva after killing the Dragon, formerly in Newhall House; a Friar, with landscape background; Samson strangling the Lion; St Margaret landing in Scotland, and her Marriage with Malcolm Canmore; Christ and the Woman of Samaria; Sigismunda weeping over the Heart of Tancred; Nausicaa surprised by Ulysses; and a small Italian landscape, added in 1887 to the Scottish National Gallery.

The much disputed poems of Ossian being then in the full bloom of their popularity, their picturesque nature strongly appealed to the wild enthusiasm of Runciman, and his friend Sir John Clerk agreed that he should decorate the cupola of his hail at Penicuik with a series of Ossianic subjects, in the execution of which the painter is said to have dreamt of rivalling the famous frescoes of the great Florentine in the Sistine Chapel at Rome. In spite of the contempt in which Macpherson's so-called translations were held by many people, he persevered in his work, and completed twelve large subjects of great merit, although full of many defects in proportion of body and limb, with too much violent action and heroic posing of the figures. About this time he also painted an Ascension for the altar of the Episcopal Church in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, and an Andromeda, besides some of the pictures already mentioned, several of which he etched. The Edinburgh Theatre, which was noted for the taste and elegance of its decorations, contained, over the boxes, heads painted by Runciman of the various poets after whom they were named, and also landscapes on the stage boxes. It has been stated that Raeburn took his tone of colour from Runciman's portraits, which are remarkable for their simple dignity and truth. Up till the year 1784 he lived in the same attic in West Nicolson Street which was at a later period occupied by David Wilkie, and in the following year he removed to Chapel Street, where he dropped down dead at the door of his house at midnight on the 21st October 1785, at the early age of forty-nine. He was intimate and associated much with the literary and other celebrities of Edinburgh, among whom were Hume, Robertson, Kames, and Monboddo; and his death is supposed to have been caused in consequence of an illness brought on him while painting the Penicuik cupola.

Probably of greater talent than Alexander Runciman was his younger brother John, born in 1744, whose life was measured by too brief a span to permit the full development of his genius, or to leave much work behind him, having died in 1768 at the early age of twenty-four. It is said that before his death he destroyed the greater number of his pictures on account of their quality not being such as he desired; but the few that he has left give evidence of talent of a high order, and are all of a small size. These show a not unsuccessful groping after originality and excellence, which, had longer life been allotted to him, would have placed the artist in the very front rank of his profession. The mellow golden tone of colour, and half-suggested, half-expressed forms by which he sometimes sought to convey his ideas, were the sure precursors of future success, and it is easy to understand why, with this striving after the union of the real with the ideal, he should have found it so difficult to satisfy himself. Regarding the small pictures by John Runciman in the Scottish National Gallery, in the Lear in the Storm the magnificently suggested shapes of stormy cloud and landscape are expressed in the highest form of art, and it is pervaded by a tone of colour of the noblest kind. In his Flight into Egypt, in which Joseph looks not unlike a Dutchman on horseback, the Virgin and Child are put in with an appreciation of great beauty of form and colour; and not less fine in colour, although somewhat Dutch in treatment, is the Temptation, in which Satan is represented as an old man with a pair of good- sized horns, and snakes twisting behind the protruding hoof. He painted, besides these, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Christ and His Disciples going to Emmaus, and the Pulling Down of the Netherbow Port, in the gallery of the Duke of Sutherland. The latter was one of a few of his own pictures which have been etched by the artist.

Two Scottish artists of some note were born within the year 1737—John Donaldson and David Martin. Donaldson was the son of a poor glovemaker of Edinburgh, whose attention was divided between his trade and metaphysical speculation. Unfortunately his son inherited so much of the latter that it became a craze, leading him away from the practice of art, in which he had great gifts, into a life of poverty, and ultimately of misery. His love of drawing when a child was encouraged by his father; and at the early age of twelve he is said to have earned money by pen-and-ink drawings, mostly copied from old engravings. He prosecuted art for several years, and his name appears in 1757 as the recipient of a premium of four guineas for a drawing from a bust of Horace, awarded by the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, and Agriculture. The following year he was again awarded by the same Society a premium of the like amount,' soon after which he removed to London, where he met with much success as a painter of miniatures, but unfortunately soon began to put his chimerical ideas into practice by attempting to reform society and put social life into order. He began to look on his art with contempt, spoke of Reynolds as being a very dull fellow in confining himself to the profession of an artist, and often denied himself to sitters of the highest position when he thought he was not in the humour to paint. His picture of the Tent of Darius, and his enamel paintings of the Death of Dido, and Hero and Leander, which were said to be works of great merit, all obtained distinctions from the Society of Arts. He was patronised as well as befriended by the Earl of Buchan, who purchased several of his enamels and paintings, including his Tent of Darius. About this time he did the portrait of Hume for the 'History of England,' regarding which Hume wrote: "The picture which Donaldson has done for me is a drawing, and in everybody's opinion, as well as my own, is the likest that has been done for me, as well as the best likeness. Since you still insist that an engraving should be made from it, we are thus more likely to have a good engraving made than by any other means. I shall be glad, however, to sit to Ferguson." 

Among Donaldson's other pursuits, he had a liking for chemistry, and invented a method of preserving meat during long voyages, which he patented. If there was any real practical value in his invention, he failed to reap the benefit on account of his poverty and ignorance of the ways of the world. The last twenty years of his life were spent in partial blindness and much misery, which led to his death at Islington on the irth October x8ox, where he had been lodged and cared for by his friends, many of whom he lost by his sarcastic temper during his last illness. From among a mass of unfinished manuscripts found after his death, the 'Elements of Beauty' alone was published, he being only the supposed author of 'Critical Remarks on the Public Buildings of London." Another John Donaldson, a contemporary, engraved some of the plates for Arnot's 'History of Edinburgh.

The better-known David Martin, an artist of a different stamp, already mentioned as assisting Ramsay, under whom he studied while enjoying his extensive and fashionable practice in London, shows his master's handling in his works, as well as his affection for draperies and other showy accessories. He was the son of the parish schoolmaster of Anstruther; and Davie, as Ramsay called him, was employed by the latter from about the year 1765, then in his twenty-eighth year, having been born in 1736 or 1737. When Ramsay was in Rome during his third visit, as already mentioned, he sent home for Davie to join him with some of his master's drawings. He remained there for about a month, this being probably the only foundation for the statement sometimes made that he studied at Rome. While assisting Ramsay in London he attended the Drawing Academy in St Martin's Lane, subsequently going into practice as a portrait-painter, with so much success that he received the appointment of Limner to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and became a member of the Society of Incorporated Artists. After the year 1775 he occupied a prominent position as a portrait-painter in Edinburgh, and during the following twenty-three years of his life occasionally visited London, where he still held a connection, and where he died in 1798. Besides being a good painter, he was a skilful engraver both in mezzotint and in line. One of his most important works was a full-length portrait of the eminent lawyer Lord Mansfield, painted in 1770, which he successfully engraved in line five years later, it having been commenced by a French engraver of irregular habits. His dark mezzotint from his own portrait of Benjamin Franklin is reputed the best likeness of that eminent man. He also executed in the same manner Ramsay's portraits of David Hume and J. J. Rousseau, in addition to Carpentier's portrait of Roubiliac the sculptor. Martin's portraits of course are very numerous : the Scottish Portrait Gallery possesses one of the Rev. Thomas Henry, whose 'History of England,' praised by Hume, was fiercely attacked by Dr Gilbert Stuart and Whitaker; and the Newhall House list includes one of Lord Kennet. The distinguished Sir Henry Raeburn at the commencement of his career received hints in his art and the loan of pictures from Martin, who, however, soon withdrew this assistance, and long afterwards, when Raeburn began to show his great power for art, spoke of him rather contemptuously as the "lad in George Street." His portrait by himself hangs in the Scottish National Gallery.

Another eighteenth-century Scottish artist was George 'Villison (born 1741, died 1797). He was a native of Edinburgh, and seems to have early developed a taste for art, having received a prize of two guineas in 1756 when at the age of fifteen, for a drawing of flowers, awarded at the competitions held by the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and Sciences. In the following year he received from the same Society a second prize of four guineas for "a drawing from a picture"; and in 1758 a third of three guineas, for a "drawing from a busto."  After studying art for some time in Rome, he returned to England and followed the profession of portrait-painting in London, but latterly went to India, where he had the good fortune to cure a wealthy person who was suffering from a dangerous wound, and who, out of gratitude, at his death bequeathed Willison a considerable independence. He then returned to Edinburgh, in which city he died, and where among other portraits he painted that of Beugo the engraver, in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and one of Thomas Gainsborough belonging to Mrs H. Glassford Bell.

Almost contemporaneous with Willison was the eccentric Archibald Skirving, born at Haddington in 1749. He was originally a miniature-painter, but after returning from Italy, where he had been studying for a short time, devoted himself almost entirely to the execution of portraits in crayon, enjoying a considerable practice in Edinburgh. Although a conscientious draughtsman, his work is dry, minute, and prosaic, and he was seldom in the habit of flattering his sitters. It is said that he often bestowed unnecessary trouble over the most trifling details, in order to tease his sitters by exhausting their patience. His known works are not very numerous, and Patrick Gibson the artist, writing in 1816, mentions that his enthusiasm and genius were equally divided between painting, darning stockings, turning egg-cups, mending his old clothes, and other useful offices. For some years before his death he seems to have been in tolerably comfortable circumstances, as he kept a riding-horse, and lived pretty much in the style of a country gentleman. At that time it is mentioned that his professional labours did not exceed one portrait in the year, for which his price was a hundred guineas. Had he drawn and painted for gain, he might, if this be true, have amassed a very considerable fortune. He died suddenly at the close of his seventieth year, in 1819, and was buried in Atheistaneford churchyard.

The affinity between the arts of painting and music so often remarked is well illustrated by the artist John Brown (born 1752, died 5th September 1789), who also possessed many other acquirements in a high degree, which within the short span of his life marked him as one of the distinguished men of his time. He was the son of a goldsmith and watchmaker of Edinburgh, and after receiving a good education, including some instruction in elementary drawing at the Trustees' Academy under Pavilion, travelled abroad with David, the son of Thomas Erskine of Cambo, whose cousin Charles, an eminent lawyer and prelate, was then residing at Rome. He remained ten years in Italy, not studying under any master, but drawing from the works of the great masters—unfortunately, however, not working with the brush to any extent, thus retarding his future advancement in the practice of the complete form of his art. His drawings, especially of small heads in pencil, and sometimes in crayon, are of very high excellence, several of which were engraved by Bartolozzi. While he was studying in Rome, Mr Townley and Sir William Young having projected an excursion to Sicily for the purpose of studying the antiquities of that island, engaged him to join the expedition in the capacity of draughtsman, where he made several beautiful pen-and-ink drawings of the ancient Sicilian buildings. Having completed these, he returned to Edinburgh, being drawn thither by a pious regard for his parents, although at that time he could expect little encouragement in the practice of his speciality in art. While there, he enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Lord Monboddo; and the Society of Scottish Antiquaries being then just established, he drew portraits of about twenty of the more distinguished members, still preserved in their library, besides heads of Dr Blair, Sir Alexander Dick, Runciman, and others. Among the drawings which he brought from Rome was a head of Piranesi, who was so restless that he never could sit still for two moments, Brown bringing him down at the first shot. A year before his death he removed to London, probably on the advice of his old friend Mr Townley, for whom he made the drawings from that gentleman's collection of antique statues in the British Museum. Finding his health giving way, he left London for Leith in 1787; but the sickness which he experienced in the then very uncomfortable voyage aggravated his illness, and he was carried up to Edinburgh, only to die on the same bed on which his friend Alexander Runciman had expired about two years previously. The year before he died he exhibited at the Royal Academy a portrait of a lady, and a frame containing seven small heads.

So well versed was Brown in the language, music, and poetry of Italy, that Lord Monboddo, in the fourth volume of his work on the 'Origin and Progress of Language,' declares his obligations to the artist for valuable aid in the Italian part of his book. The letters in which this aid was communicated, Monboddo published in 1789, after Brown's death, under the title of 'Letters on the Poetry and Music of the Italian Opera, the profits of the publication of which, in addition to the results of the sale of his drawings in London, went to his widow.

Among other little - known artists whose names on obscure portraits alone save them from total oblivion, and whose lives were included within the eighteenth century, may be mentioned Andrew Allen and William Robinson. Robinson painted a portrait of Allen which was engraved by Richard Cooper, and has further claim to be mentioned as the painter of a portrait of William Forbes, Professor of Law in Glasgow University, painted about 1714, and another of John Arbuthnot, M.D., in the Scottish Portrait Gallery, who lived 1667-1735.

The death is recorded in 1791 of Sir George Chalmers, who studied in Edinburgh under Allan Ramsay, and subsequently at Rome. He was patronised by General Blakeney at Minorca, where he painted that officer's portrait. A native of Edinburgh, he is said to have married a great - granddaughter of George Jamesone of Aberdeen, through whom he inherited the family group of that artist engraved by Alexander in 1728. He was representative baronet of Cults, which was confiscated on account of the family adherence to the cause of the Stuarts.

Although not practising what is considered a high department of art, the story of Mrs Elizabeth Blackwell is so remarkable as an instance of the patient perseverance and quiet heroism which have so often distinguished her sex under misfortunes, that she may fairly claim a place in the list of Scottish artists. She was the daughter of an Aberdeen merchant, and secretly married and eloped to London with Thomas Blackwell, a man of great attainments but impulsive character, and brother of the first Greek professor in Aberdeen College. After being some time in London, her husband was thrown into prison for debt incurred contesting his right to practise as a printer without having served a regular apprenticeship to the trade. Thus thrown upon her own resources, she began to make drawings of flowers for publication, and there being no proper herbal at that time, she was encouraged in the undertaking by Sir Hans Sloan, Dr Mead, and other eminent physicians. In 1737 she published a large folio volume of 250 plates, followed by a second two years later, the 500 specimens of which she not only drew but engraved, and also coloured the prints. Her labours were handsomely recognised by the College of Physicians, and by the resulting profits she was enabled to relieve her husband from his prison, where he had aided her in the literary part of the work. While living at Chelsea, Blackwell devoted some time to the study of methods of reclaiming waste lands; the publication of a pamphlet on which led to his employment by the King of Sweden. By his knowledge of medicine he was enabled to prescribe successfully for the king during a severe illness, and was in consequence promoted to the office of one of the Court physicians. Some inadvertent remarks, repeated by enemies at Court, caused him to be suspected of complicity in a treasonable plot, and in order to extract a confession he was put to the torture, under the pain of which he confessed guilt, He was in consequence sentenced to a traitor's death after being broken on the wheel. This was commuted to beheading, and he laid his head on the block on the 29th July 1747, retracting his confession and declaring his innocence.

In the list of artists associated with the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, the names are included in 1792 of James Wales and Miss Anne Forbes as portrait-painters. They are probably of no importance further.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast