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Art in Scotland
James Drummond


JAMES DRUMMOND, R.S.A.
Born, 1816; died, 13th August 1877.

This eminent painter of Scottish history and genre was the son of an Edinburgh merchant, and may be said to have breathed the very air of antiquity from his birth, which occurred in the old house in the Canongate once occupied by John Knox. After leaving school he was employed by Captain Brown, the ornithologist, to draw and colour illustrations for his books, during which time he attended the Trustees' Academy under Sir William Allan. He began his professional career by teaching drawing, and in 1835 at the Scottish Academy his first exhibited picture appeared, Waiting for an Answer. From this date onwards he was a regular contributor to the same exhibitions, his last work being the Printing-office of Andrew Hart, the famous Scottish typographer. An enthusiastic student of Scottish history and Scottish archeology, he painted and drew almost nothing else, and while his works show no great evidence of fancy or imagination, they will always retain their interest and value, not only as accurate representations of Scottish historical incidents, but also as reliable registers of the costume and other antiquarian characteristics of the people in bygone times. In these respects he was possessed of great knowledge, and bestowed the utmost pains on his work. Among his most important paintings may be mentioned the Porteous Mob, a scene in old Edinburgh crowded with figures, and painted under a broad night-effect, illuminated by a fire in the street : the main incident is the crowd bearing forward their victim to the dyer's pole converted into a gallows, the foreground being filled by groups of terrified citizens, prominent among which is represented the incident related by a lady who, in going to a party, had her chair stopped by some one dressed as a baker, whose high-bred manners were inconsistent with his disguise. This picture, which was painted in 1855, was engraved for the Scottish Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, and is now in the Scottish National Gallery. It was preceded by his John Knox bringing home his Second Wife, and was succeeded in 1856 by Edinburgh after the Battle of Prestonpans.

His next important picture was Montrose being driven to Execution, exhibited in 1859. It is rather larger than the Porteous Mob, being over six feet in length, and was bequeathed by the artist to the Scottish National Gallery. The principal feature in the picture is the figure of the gallant Marquis, who had been betrayed by one of his former followers, bound and seated in Highland costume on the executioner's cart, halting in front of Moray House, towards the crowded balcony of which the Marquis is looking defiantly, and from whence Argyll, Lorn, and others, gloated over the degradation of their rival. Although skilfully grouped and full of powerful dramatic interest, it is rather thinly painted, and the interest hardly sufficiently concentrated for a picture of its size. His Earliest Congregation of Scotch Reformers appeared in 1862; and his James IV. returning Thanks after the Gowrie Conspiracy, two years later; to which may be added his Return of Queen Mary to Edinburgh after her Surrender to the Confederate Lords at Carberry Hill in 1567.

Although his pictures were not often seen in London, he was represented in the International Exhibition there in 1862 by his Cromwell in Edinburgh; and in 185o his two companion pictures of Peace and War were purchased at the private view of the British Institution by the late Prince Consort, and are now at Osborne. He was elected Associate of the Scottish Academy in 1845, Academician in 1852; chosen librarian of the Academy five years later; and in 1868, on the death of W. B. Johnston, became curator of the National Gallery. He was an active and valuable member of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, where he often read interesting papers on Scottish history and antiquities, which were sometimes illustrated by beautiful drawings. Besides being a zealous collector of antiques, old prints, books, and art properties, he left a large number of accurate and artistic watercolour and pencil drawings of picturesque bits of old Edinburgh, which were afterwards published in chromo-lithography. His privately printed 'Medival Triumphs and Processions' was illustrated by himself; his magnificent volume on Ancient Scottish Weapons is a work of the greatest beauty and importance; to which may be added the publication after his death of his fine artistic drawings of Ancient Sculptured Stones in Scotland. He died in Edinburgh after a prolonged illness, on the 13th of August 1877, and was held in the very highest esteem by all who knew him.


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