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Art in Scotland
William Johnstone


WILLIAM B. JOHNSTONE, R.S.A.
Born, 1804; died, 5th June 1868.

This artist, who was born and practised in Edinburgh, was one of the most active members of the Royal Scottish Academy, of which he was for many years treasurer, and also one of the trustees. During the earlier part of his life he followed the profession of a solicitor; but his love for art, which was still further cultivated by associating with the artists of Edinburgh, induced him to relinquish his earlier profession for that of an artist, and he was thus prevented from receiving the full benefit of an early training in the elements of the art. He never at any time confined his practice to one branch of painting, and he evinced very considerable talent in landscape as well as historical pieces, besides being possessed of an intimate critical knowledge of the works of ancient and modern artists. In his style he was at first a follower of Wilkie, but abandoned that after his visit to Rome in 1843, when he attempted to imitate the severer style of the earlier Italian masters, from which he subsequently reverted to one less ambitious and characterised by a higher degree of finish. He did his best work at this period, although it cannot be said that he ever showed any great power of hand, and was generally inclined to be rather dry in his execution. Latterly, and probably unconsciously, he fell under the influence of the great works of John Phillip, which were then coming into prominence.

Besides being an excellent artist, he was fond of literary pursuits and antiquarian studies, and was an intimate friend of the late eminent David Laing, to whose joint efforts the people of Scotland are indebted for the restoration of the famous Holyrood altar-piece to the gallery of that Royal palace. Among other literary work, he was the anonymous contributor (possibly jointly with Dr Laing) of two interesting articles on Scottish and English art to the 'North British Review,' and compiled the biographical catalogue of the Scottish National Gallery, of which he was appointed curator in 188, and wherein is deposited his excellent picture of the Scene in Holyrood after the Death of Rizzio, which was exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy in 1855.

He was elected an Associate in 1840, about three years before his visit to Rome, and received the honour of full Academician in 1848. His death occurred after nearly a year's illness, which latterly assumed a most painful form, with an almost fatal certainty, which, however, did not prevent him from working at his art till within a few days of his death. The last works which he exhibited were a Waterfall in Glen Nevis, and Female Industry, in 1867; and the "Novel of the Day, in the year of his death. He left a valuable and interesting collection of antiquities, consisting of old armour and other objects. In noticing his death, one of the Edinburgh papers remarked that the Scottish Academy never had a member more devoted to its interests or more universally useful to it; and that even when on his deathbed, in spite of all his bodily pain and weakness, whenever the Academy or National Gallery was mentioned, he entered with as much spirit into all their interests as if nothing were the matter with him.


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