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Art in Scotland
John Adam Houston


JOHN ADAM HOUSTON, R.S.A.
Born, December 1802; died, December 1884.

The ancestors of this artist are said to have belonged for upwards of two centuries to the county of Renfrew, where they owned a small property near the village of Houston, the latter being then connected with manufactures, such as weaving, bleaching, &c., which many years ago deserted that village. His father had some taste and ability for art, was related to the artistic Nasmyth family, and removed early in life to North Wales, where John was born on Christmas-day at Gwydr Castle, the seat of Lord Willoughby de Eresby. On the return of the family to Scotland eight years later, they settled near to Dalkeith, at the school of which he received his education. Rather against the wish of his father, he entered the Trustees' Academy, then under Sir William Allan, with a view to following art as a profession, and after three years of successful study went to London to further improve himself by the superior facilities afforded there. During his absence from Scotland he studied for a short time in Paris and Germany, dividing his time between landscape, figure, and portrait painting, and also practising in water-colours. At the age of twenty-four he exhibited his first picture, Don Quixote in his Study, at the Royal Institution, and two years later his French Goatherds, at the Scottish Academy. On account of family matters he returned to Edinburgh in 1841, in which year he exhibited there his Soldiers of Cromwell disputing on the Scriptures, which was purchased by the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. In the same year his Prisoner appeared on the walls of the Royal Academy in London, succeeded in the next by his Swiss Soldier of the Sixteenth Century. At this date he was elected an Associate of the Scottish Academy, where he exhibited an Incident in the Crusades, and the Release of Protestant Prisoners from the Tower. A large portion of the year 1844 was passed in Paris, where he contemplated joining as draughtsman a proposed scientific expedition to the East—a project, however, which was never carried into effect.

Among the numerous pictures which he painted in the succeeding years may be noted, the Prodigal Son, the Deserted Hall, the Secreting of the Regalia of Scotland, and the Good Samaritan, the latter being his diploma picture, deposited in the Scottish National Gallery on his election as full Academician in 1845. In the latter part of the year 1855, on account of the state of his health, he went to Italy accompanied by his wife and daughter, passing about a year between the beautiful cities of Pisa, Florence, and Siena. The fruits of this journey were contributed to the succeeding exhibitions of the Scottish Academy, and a large part of the following year spent in the Scottish Highlands produced a similar result. The bronchial affection from which he suffered so much in the harsh Scottish climate induced him to remove to London about 1858, where he remained till his death at Upper Phillimore Place in Kensington.

He was a regular contributor of numerous works to the Scottish Academy's exhibitions, besides exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London, at which perhaps his most successful work was Newton investigating Light, in 1870. His time was pretty equally divided between landscape and figure painting, almost entirely in oil, varied by an occasional portrait. His figure -pictures are generally of a moderate size, carefully wrought out, with brilliant and rather positive colour, and are often suggestive of the power of executing larger and more important compositions than those with which he contented himself. His most favourite subjects were troopers, &c., from the stern Cromwellian and Cavaliering Prince Rupert period, executed with a smooth and sometimes too careful finish. Among his landscapes may be mentioned a large and very fine View of the Cathedral of Glasgow, excellent in every respect, which was engraved on a large scale by Richardson.


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