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Art in Scotland
Sir Daniel MacNee


SIR DANIEL MACNEE, P.R.S.A.
Born, 1806; died, 17th January 1882.

This eminent and fashionable portrait-painter was born in the parish of Fintry in Stirlingshire, but was removed to Glasgow along with his mother on the death of his father, when only some six months old. He lived at first in the Kirkgate of Glasgow, a district which has now been entirely remodelled, and at his second school in the Limmerfield first became acquainted with his lifelong friend W. L. Leitch, the water-colour artist. He began to learn drawing when about the age of twelve, at the class of John Knox in Dunlop Street, along with Leitch, Horatio MacCulloch, and Templeton—the last of whom afterwards became a clever painter of small portraits and domestic subjects, but lost himself in consequence of giving way to unsettled habits. He remained with Knox about four years, after which he was employed by Dr James Brown to make some large anatomical drawings for the illustration of popular lectures. He and Leitch were at this time fond of theatricals, and got up a little theatrical club, hiring a kind of cellar for their dramatic performances in the Saitmarket, and for which the pair of them painted the scenery. The then fashionable demand for painted snuff-boxes of Ayrshire manufacture tempted Macnec into the employment of a Mr Crighton at Cumnock, where he only remained a month; Lizars the engraver, of Edinburgh, having in the meantime seen some of the anatomical drawings, offering him by letter a situation to draw and colour similar illustrations for his books—an offer which was eagerly accepted.

He commenced to work with Lizars in Edinburgh when about the age of nineteen, studying at the Trustees' Academy in the evenings, where he added to the number of his friends the great David Scott, Thomas Duncan, and Robert Scott Lauder. He began to exhibit chalk-portraits in Edinburgh in 1826, and on his return to Glasgow four years afterwards, along with these began to paint portraits, fancy heads, and subjects of homely peasant life.

It was about this time that in company with Horatio MacCulloch he made his first trip to London, the expenses of both being defrayed by Bailie Lumsien of Glasgow. They went by coach, and the incidents of the journey afforded a fund of stories to Macnec for long afterwards. Neither of the two seem to have been very highly impressed by what they saw at the Academy's exhibition, as after their return Macnec said the portraits there were of no account, and MacCulloch declared the landscapes not worth looking at.

He lived at this time in Cochrane Street, and thenceforward followed uninterruptedly the profession of a portrait-painter, contributing regularly to the Glasgow as well as to the Edinburgh exhibitions. His success in catching a good likeness, united with a pleasant bonhomie, fund of anecdote racily told, with all the other qualifications of a rare jolly good fellow, rapidly brought him into notice, and he moved westwards to the more fashionable Regent Street, soon becoming one of the most prominent Glasgow citizens. The death of John Graham-Gilbert in 1877, with whom he had hitherto divided the practice in the west of Scotland, added largely to his employment, when he removed still farther westwards to a house which he bought in Bath Street. On his election as president of the Royal Scottish Academy (which he joined in 1830), he removed to Edinburgh in 1876, receiving the honour of knighthood in the following year.

He painted rapidly and freely, often finishing a head-size in three sittings of an hour or an hour and a half each, and his numerous portraits are to be met with almost everywhere in Scotland. Besides regularly contributing to the Glasgow and Edinburgh exhibitions, he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy in London. Among his portraits may be mentioned those of Macnish, the author of the 'Anatomy of Drunkenness,' 1837; J. B. Macculloch, the political economist, 1841; the late Duke of Hamilton, Lord Brougham, Viscount Melville, the late Lord Belhaven, the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Haddington, Admiral Sir William Edmonstone, and a great many portraits of ladies, in which he was particularly successful. One of his best works was a portrait of Dr Wardlaw, for which he was awarded a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition in 1855. Regarding this work an eminent French art critic remarks— "M. Macnec nous paraIt, avec Al. Grant, le meilleur portraitiste de l'école Anglaise, Si flOUS en jugeons sur cet échantillon unique; car c'est I'unique toile que l'artiste ait envoye a l'Exposition, et nous le regrettons."

Although not possessed of much invention, he occasionally painted subject-pictures, mostly confined to one or two figures, such as the Ballad, scenes from the 'Gentle Shepherd,' &c. Among the other honours conferred on him was that of LL.D. from the University of Glasgow, besides being a deputy-lieutenant of the city of Edinburgh. He died after a short illness, and was followed to the grave by an unusual number of friends. The Scottish National Gallery possesses the Bracelet, and a pertrait head - size of his old friend Horatio MacCulloch - the latter unfortunately much gone in colour. It is regretted that he sometimes used too freely a fugitive kind of Naples yellow in his lighter flesh-tints, and bitumen or asphaltum in his backgrounds and deep shadows, more especially in his earlier works.


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