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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 4 - The Artist - Part 1


Glimpses of Early Art—George Jamesone and his Contemporaries Aikman Hamilton Allan Ramsay Martin— Jacob More—Runciman— Sir Robert Strange Early Architects James Gibbs.

THIS is a department of intellectual labour in which there is little to be said for Scotland by one whose notice is entirely confined to the past, and the rather far past. There are certain conditions of the possession of a school of art which Scotland has never enjoyed until very late times. The arts have sometimes flourished amid turbulence and vice, but never could they gain root in a country disturbed and impoverished by a perpetual struggle with powerful neighbours for independence and bare national existence. To the hardier virtues such arid and storm-swept soil was congenial. It was the natural nursery of military leadership—it was favourable to strong-headed and strong-willed statesmanship — it made bold, ambitious, hard-working scholars, who scorned delights and lived laborious days. But the artist is not autochthonous; he grows in a garden, of which not only the original plants are imported and carefully nurtured, but the very mould itself is artificial: hence that Scotland should have produced artists, and sent them abroad as missionaries to lead on the great schools of foreign art, would have been as absurd an expectation as to anticipate such a service from Iceland or Vancouver Island at the present day.

There are conditions, indeed, so critical in their bearing on existence itself, that the mere statesman will attend to them alone, and forego the decorations of life. Music is a great humaniser and solacer of existence, but the kings who take to the fiddle when their Rome is burning, however skilfully they may have performed, have not reached a high character in their profession as rulers of men. James III. of Scotland was not placed in a favourable position for encouraging art in any prominent shape; and that the nobles of his realm should have been such barbarians as to hang his favourite companions over the bridge of Lauder, only shows us that he did not act the part of a wise governor in raising artists to a high rank among his rough handed nobles, and making them his exclusive companions, and, in fact, his counsellors on state affairs—a function for which, had they been thoroughly devoted to art, they were not fitted, and to which they would not have aspired.

A statesman’s destiny is a hard one in this as, perhaps, in other matters: he must not pursue, like the vagabond world, his own inclinations and instincts, but must study other people’s. The failing of James III. seems to have been, that he consulted his own enjoyment in art, instead of trying how much of it he could get others to enjoy and follow him in. His favour for art was, as we have seen, fatal to the poor artists. By the chroniclers it is only referred to, with more or less of charitable excuse, as a vice; and of the real fruits of his encouragement of the arts we would know nothing, were it not for the zeal of recent inquirers.

It appears to have been in his reign that the impulse to architecture, both civil and ecclesiastical, on the French model, as already referred to, began. There stood until very recently in Edinburgh a noble remnant of this revival—the history of which, perhaps, points to the source whence the King inherited his love of art. The Trinity College Church was built in the early part of his reign by his mother, Mary of Gueldres, the granddaughter of John Duke of Burgundy. It was but a fragment of a church, being little more than the chancel and transept; but it was sufficient to develop the prevailing French style with extraordinary beauty and richness, and it contained a sufficiency of types of the architect’s intentions to permit of its being finished as it had been begun. There it stood, left incompleted, like many another Gothic fragment, by builders who, having exhausted their own resources, left their handiwork in the assured faith that when wealth and opportunity sufficed it would be reverently completed.

It is a wonderful illustration of how a stratum of barbarism often ruts through a state of high civilisation, that, just after the middle of the nineteenth century, this precious work of art was deliberately obliterated, and that in the face of thy, and in the midst of protests by the lovers of art and the students of archaeology throughout the land. The act, indeed, was perpetrated with a sort of cynical contempt of their outcries, as if the doers were actuated by the spirit which sometimes prompts people to outrage the prejudices of their neighbours. In general such acts are hidden under the common barbarism of the times, and the actual perpetrators of the offence rest unknown; in this instance everything is known of the several steps which led to the conclusion, and the men engaged in them. If they have any of the aspirations after notoriety which inspired the burner of Diana’s temple, they are very likely to be gratified; for an inquisitive posterity will be pretty sure to demand a full and complete history of one of the most remarkable outrages that has occurred since art began. Let us hope that it may become a prominent event as the last great instance of Vandalism perpetrated within the United Kingdom. It seems a coincidence worth noting, that as all hope of the retention of the massive stone edifice disappeared, the labours of zealous lovers of art and antiquity became successful in the recovery of a fragile but precious work of art which had evidently decorated the interior of the church. Among the odds and ends of art casually preserved at Kensington Palace, were two large panels, with scenes partially at least sacred painted on them, so as to render it likely that they were compartments of an altar-piece. They attracted notice by the clearness and coldness of outline, the fresh brightness of colour, the gentle earnestness, not like the ideal of the Italian, and the general air of a struggle with the difficulties of primitive art, which belong to the Van Eyck school. Yet there is a degree of full drawing, and a wonderful compass of colouring, as if of a later school. The miniver and ermine furs, the silks and the jewellery, are almost as real as Terbourg’s. There was a monarch at devotion with a patron saint, and a young prince in royal robes behind him, on one panel; on another was a queen at prayer, with a mailed figure, also supposed to be a patron saint, standing behind her. To those who got access to the other sides of the panels, there were revealed on the one a representation of the Trinity, and on the other St Cecilia playing on an organ, while an angel listens, and a man with strange expressive Scotch features, in rich ecclesiastical robes, kneels in devotion. It was evident that several of the figures here were portraits, and some heraldic devices connected the whole both with Scotland and Denmark. It has been shown by a process of induction, which has a distinctness unfortunately not often realised in such inquiries, that these panels had been the altar-piece of the Trinity Church. The praying King is James IlI., the praying Queen his wife, Margaret of Denmark, who is identified by the blazon of the three Scandinavian states, then ruled by one monarch. The St Cecilia is identified as the King’s mother, Mary of Gueldres, the foundress of the Church.

A point was still wanting to connect this piece of art with the Church, and heraldry came in aid when all other sources failed. This often happens, compelling the archeologist to pay respect to the fantastic science. It may be all a vain show, ministering to human vanity and folly; but this is true of many other things that have to be recorded of the ways of the human race. In fact, man is a blazoning animal; and if we would know his history, we must accept such his propensity, just as, in conchology, we deal with the nautilus spreading his sail, and find in ornithology that the member of the Pavonidae family called the peacock is addicted to fanning out his many-coloured tail to the sun. Of the ecclesiastic who is kneeling in presence of St Cecilia, Pinkerton, the first to suggest the accepted tenor of the piece, observes, with some disappointment, that "his heraldry of three buckles and a cheveron can hardly be traced, except to the obscure family of Bonkil in the Mearns" But the next investigator neatly clenches the link that shall join this obscure family to a courtly pageant, by finding that one of them, Edward Bonkil or Boncle, was the first provost of the foundation, and the confessor of the foundress. And by the way, if all tales told of that Queen be true, he must have had duties tending sorely to try the mettle of a court confessor. Whatever may have been the claim of the representative of St Cecilia to a share in her divine art, Mary of Gueldres had poor claims to sanctity, if we accept the grotesque and outspoken account of her conduct in the Pitscottie Chronicle — an account unfortunately too distinct and specific to admit of public repetition at the present day; and in her face there is more of the kind of flesh and blood in which the human passions and failings reside, than of the meek piety of the saint.

There would be no use attempting to make out that this fine piece was painted by a Scot, whether abroad or at home. But before concluding that in that day, and indeed earlier, there was no art in the land, let us listen to the curious plea put in by a foreigner, to the effect that a picture, perhaps the most remarkable in its historical conditions that the world has seen, was probably painted by one of our countrymen. Such a picture was actually in the possession of a Scot abroad—and this is something.

Among the many strange questions put to poor Joan of Arc by her inquisitors, one was, Whether she had ever seen, or caused paint, a picture of herself? She answered, Yes. She had seen at Reims, in the possession of a Scotsman, a picture of herself in armour, kneeling on a hassock, and presenting a letter to the King. It is not in evidence that the Scot painted the picture he possessed, nor is it known who painted it; but, as M. Michel justly remarks,. it is lawful to guess at the artist. There was at that time a painter who attended the camp of the Pucelle. It is known that he painted her banner for her— that banner also described in her inquisition as white semé, with fleurs-de-lis, with a world and two angels painted on it, and the motto "Jhesus Maria" The name of the painter of this banner, who is also likely enough to have painted the portrait, is recorded as Hames Poulevoir, whose daughter was an intimate friend of the heroine. No one will readily dispute with M. Michel the opinion that this does not sound like a French name; and he will be readily supported here, when holding that a name it much resembles, and of which he supposes it may be a corruption, Polwarth, is familiar in Scotland. He mentions that the names of Scottish Jameses are often made Hames in old French. Is it fair to suggest a nearer way to the conclusion that the painter was a Scotsman? Suppose Hames a mistake for Hume or Home: Polwarth was an old patronymic of that family. Sir Alexander Hume, the head of the house, was one of the Scots followers of Douglas, killed at Verneuil. He left behind him three sons; but whether any of then remained in France, or, remaining, gave himself to art, I do not know. David Hume was a descendant of the hero of Verneuil. I wonder if he could have been persuaded that an ancestor of his painted a portrait of Joan of Arc? There was a Scot who steadily followed Joan’s career, and witnessed her last agonies in the fire. He returned to Scotland, where it is believed that he ended his days as a monk in the abbey of Dunfermline. He wrote an account of the career of Joan, which, to the great misfortune of historical literature, has been hitherto undiscovered. M. Michel supposes that this man may have been the owner of the picture—and this is not impossible.

Leaving these fields of idle conjecture, let us dwell on the significant and honourable fact, that Scotland produced the first eminent British portrait. painter. When Charles I. revisited the country of his birth in 1633, just after he had brought over Vandyke to fill the vacuum of art in England, he had the gratification of sitting to a native Scottish artist—George Jamesone. Few reputations stand in more isolated solitude, and few histories have been more mysterious than this man’s. The stormy age, so many of whose great actors he has given us to know face to face, had too much bloody and feverish work to do to pay him much attention, and any memorials now possessed of him have been dug up, fragment after fragment, with much industry. His father was burgess of guild of the city of Aberdeen, his mother the daughter of a bailie thereof. What peculiar train of circumstances can have induced people of this kind, shortly after the end of the sixteenth century, to send their son abroad to study art, it is difficult to conceive; and if it was from the pure impulse of enlightened ambition, it may be counted that this worthy couple were at least two centuries before their age. I am not sure that at this day an Aberdeen bailie would consider it quite consistent with sanity to send a son to Antwerp to be educated as a painter.

Jamesone was born some twelve or thirteen years before the end of the sixteenth century. It has always been held as an established fact that he studied along with Vandyke under Rubens, and competent critics have declared that his style sufficiently vouches for his training—that there is no mistaking in his thinly-painted portraits the animated flesh-tints of his master. This may be sufficient to establish the fact that he adopted Rubens’s method. That he was the pupil of this master, is asserted in the anecdotes of Horace Walpole, who simply states the fact, mentioning that he received his information about George Jamesone from James Jamesone, a merchant in Leith. A hundred years after the painter’s death, Walpole was but eighteen years old, so that the tradition must be supposed to have been transmitted through two or three generations. The amount of evidence, however, demanded for any such fact, depends on its weight If one shows you a coal which he extracted from the granitic rocks of Devonshire, you would require some evidence of so startling an assertion; but if he says he got it at Newcastle, it is not worth while proving that it did not come from North Shields or Walls-end. Had Jamesone been a self-created artist, his style would have been as different from others as the methods of the founders of the Italian, the German, and the Flemish schools respectively. But his pictures are Flemish, as broad as they can stare. He learnt to paint, therefore, in the school where Rubens was supreme; and whether he frequented the potentate’s studio or not, is a trivial matter.

Local tradition goes further even than Walpole has followed, and connects Jamesone with the domestic history of his illustrious instructor. All men know the lovely picture known as the "Straw Hat"—the portrait of Rubens’s second wife, whom he married when he was fifty-four and she sixteen. Some of the French Lives call her Helena Fremont, but the more accurate Germans give her name as Forman. This is a common north-country name, and the tradition is, that she was an Aberdeenshire girl, and a relation of Jamesone’s. Waagen says she belonged to a distinguished family in Antwerp, but his authority for this seems only to be of a semi-traditional character. I asked him about it. The Aberdeen story, however, will not hold its own ground. It represents Helena Forman as rising from the humble position of a house-maiden in the artist’s family, and then bringing her kinsman to participate in her fortunes. But it happens that her marriage with Rubens occurred in 1631, after Jamesone had returned with his training to his native town.

Jamesone, like his father, was a burgess of Aberdeen, and seems to have lived in affluence and comfort, since a few notices preserved of him are chiefly taken from the recorded settlements in which he disposed of his property. Among the topographical memoranda in that valuable little itinerarium so full of amusing learning, called ‘The Book of Bon Accord,’ there are some curious memoranda of his house and garden. The old local writer there quoted says: "Upon the westside of the town, at a small distance, there is a little, green swelling hill to be seen, corruptly called the Woman Hill, but more properly the Woolman Hill, because it is affirmed that in old tymes the sellers of wool quo came frome the neirest pairts about the towne took ther stand ther upon merkat days. Under the verie hill there runs a stream of water, and another veyne of the same water in the midst of the channel of a little brook running southward dose under the foot of that hill, yet it is easille distinguyshed both by its taste and colour from the waters of the brook. This spring is known by the name of the Wall of Spaa. Hard by it to the westward there is a foursquair feild, which of old served for a theater, since made a gardyne for pleasure by the industrie and expense of George Jamesone, ane ingenious paynter, who did set up therein ane tymber house, paynted all over with his own hand."

In the town-garden and pleasure-house, or Lust Haus, we may trace Jamesone’s adoption of the habits he saw in the Netherlands. They are commemorated in one of the curious topographical epigrams of Arthur Johnston, of whom and his rivalship with Buchanan something has already been seen. His tribute to the painter’s pleasure-garden is not one of his most successful efforts; and it is not improved in the translation of a local bard of some half a century later, whose lyre was inspired by the genius of municipality reform:-

"The Woolman Hill, which all the rest outvies
In pleasantness, this city beautifies!
There is the well of Spa, that healthful font,
Where yr’ne-brewed water coloureth
the mount.

Not far from thence a garden’s to be seen,
Which unto Jamesone did appertain,
Wherein a little pleasant house doth stand,
Painted (as
I guess) with its master’s hand."

Some documents connected with Jamesone’s acquisition of his little suburban paradise show more distinctly still the influence of Flemish habits on the painter. The ground where the old Catholic mysteries used to be performed having fallen into the offensive condition in which suburban public grounds, when not carefully tended, are sure to fall, while at the mercy of a turbulent burn, he resolved to beautify it according to the Flemish fashion at his own proper charges. He represented to the magistrates, "That for as meikle as a greeit part of the playfeild belonging to the toune quhair comedies were wont to be acted of auld beside the wall of Spay, is spoiled, broken, and carriet away in speat and inundation of water, and is liable to the same danger and inconvenience hereafter, so that, unless some course be taken to withstand such speats and inundation, the whole playfeild, within a short space of time, will all utterlie decay, and serve for no use. And the said George Jamesone, taking notice of the toun’s prejudice therein, and withall have and consideration how this litil plot of ground may be useful to the toune heirefter; out of his naturall affectioun to this his native citie, he is content, upon his own charges, not only to make some fortification to restrain the violence of the speattis in tyme cuming, bot lykewayes to make some policie and planting within and about the said playfeild for the publict use and benefit of the town." The condition on which he offered to lay out the pleasure-ground for the future use of the public was, that he should himself retain it for the remainder of his days at a nominal rent, and the offer was thankfully acceded to.

Such trivial details have surely a significance entitling them to be preserved. They show the hopeful readiness with which the foreign notions of the travelled artist were received among his fellow-burgesses in the short breathing-time of peace which followed the union of the crowns. It will easily be believed—especially when the troublous time that immediately followed on the artist’s setting up of his tabernacle is remembered—that little of his garden finery remained down to late times. A stone arch over the chalybeate spring, still called the Well of Spa, is the sole relic of his public benefactions. The stream that threatened to destroy the playground is well barricadoed, but it runs blue and red with the refuse of dyers’ vats, mixed with elements still more offensive: the very site of the pleasure-house is forgotten, and the old garden is covered with a filthy suburb.

One who had lived in the house of Rubens must have seen something like princely grandeur: it was the way in Flanders, as well as in some of the Italian states, practically to reverence high art, by letting it open the way to power and wealth. Whether this was a more enlightened principle than that of permitting every artist to advance himself as well as he can, by selling his works to the public at large, and endeavouring to give them cheaper than his neighbours, I am not going to inquire. Jamesone may or may not have sighed for the sort of artistic court which he left behind him at Antwerp. Certainly, however, if he did not find himself where art held its proper supremacy, and where he might reverentially follow masters or ambitiously cope with rivals, he was in the middle of a set of trained scholars and clever men even when at home in his garden-house; and we know that he frequently resided at Edinburgh, and travelled about. The names of some of those whose portraits he painted will show that he enjoyed no mean share of the artist’s privilege, to meet face to face the great men of his age. He painted Charles L, Montrose, Rothes, old Leslie the Earl of Leven, the Chancellor Loudon, the Marquesses of Hamilton and Huntley, Bishop Forbes, Andrew Cant, Gordon of Straloch, Urquhart of Cromarty, Sir Thomas Hope, Gregory, Richard Baxter, George Heriot, Arthur Johnston, and Sir Thomas Nicolson.

We have already made acquaintance with the remarkable group of men renowned for literature and science who then clustered round the old northern city which boasted of the united attractions of a cathedral and a university. When an artist of the Flemish school settled down among the other celebrities of the place, it might have been held a token that civilisation was ripening apace up to the standard of the foreign seats of learning, and that the Scot would no longer be driven abroad to seek a field for intellectual supremacy. But darker days than ever were at hand, and the frail fabric of civilisation was shaken by hands ruder than even those of a foreign enemy. The place where Jamesone had set up his tabernacle was peculiarly under the curse of the civil war. Being tainted with Episcopacy and Royalism, Montrose, when he was himself a zealous Covenanter, came down on it, and forced on the community the iron rule of the Covenant;—at that juncture, among other revolutions, we learn that Jamesone’s portrait of the provost was removed from the session-house, as "savouring of Popery." After Montrose had made his great apostasy he came back, bringing seven devils worse than himself in the shape of his Celtic hordes; and, finding the town under the rule he had himself imposed on it, burned and slaughtered all around, as if he were taking vengeance on the poor citizens for his on fit of disloyalty. It was not a time for the encouragement of the fine arts when the one party had made camp-fires of the carvings of the cathedral, and the other left the streets strewed with the unburied dead.

It was a fortunate thing, however, for the commemoration of the features hardened in that great conflict, that the brief sunshine of peace should have nourished an artist, to pursue his peaceful labours among the men at work with head and hand in the mighty storm. To see their portraits after their manner in the flesh hanging on the walls of old houses gives a liveliness to our book-knowledge of the wars of the Covenant, which we owe entirely to the chances that set down in the midst of them an artist trained abroad. The traces of Jamesone’s movements, at a time when people had so many other things to think about, are naturally but scanty.

Sir Thomas Hope, a lawyer and professional champion of the Covenanters, who had the reputation of having helped materially in the drafting of the Solemn League and Covenant itself, takes time, just as the storm, is coming to its height, to make the following entries in his diary :—

"20 Julji 1638, Fryday.

"This day William Jamesoun, painter (at the ernest desyr of my sone Mr Alexander) was sufferit to draw my pictur.

"27 Julji 1638.

"Item, a second draught be William Jamesoun."

Making allowance for the busy statesman forgetting the artist’s Christian name, it is inferred from this that the rather majestic-looking portrait of Hope in the Parliament House of Edinburgh is the work of Jamesone, though some think it must be a mere copy, since it fails in conquering so well as Jamesone in other instances did, that great difficulty of the portrait-painter—the giving flesh and muscle and the proper pose to the hand.

Jamesone had one munificent, and, it might be said, princely patron, Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy, who united the educated and refined gentleman with the feudal baron and Highland chief; brought arms hangings and damask napery out of Flanders, and "bestowet and gave to ane Germane painter, whom he entertainet in his house aught month, the soume of ane thousand pundit" Some of Jamesone’s letters to this potent chief still exist. On the 13th of October 1634, he writes from Edinburgh to acknowledge the receipt of a hundred merks, and explains that it will be the month of January before he begins his pictures, "except that I have the occasione to meet with the parties in the north, quhair I mynd to stay for tuo moneths." In the ensuing month of June he refers to sixteeen pictures of which he has got "a not;" and, in reference to pecuniary considerations, says: "The pryce quhilk ewerie ane payes to me abowe the west [above the waist] is twentie merkis, I furnishing claith and coulleris; bot iff I furniss ane double-gilt muller, then it is twentie poundis. Thes I deall with all alyk; bot I am moir bound to hawe ane gryte cair of your worship’s service, becaus of my gould payment for my laist imployment. Onlie thus your worship wold resolve at quohis charges I mist go throwe the countrey to maik thir picturis, for all that are heir in town neidis onlie your worship’s letter to theam to cause theam sitt." He concludes by saying, "Iff I begin the picture in Julii, I will hawe the sextine redie about the laist of September."

The execution of sixteen portraits between July and the end. of September looks like industrious application and rapid execution; but he followed a master whom he had seen sweep the canvass with tempestuous brush, and his portraits show a characteristic tendency to broad effects in preference to elaborate finishing.

The class of persons called Tourists are familiar with the long line of portraits of the kings of Scotland, from Father Fergus downwards, which decorate the narrow gallery of Holyrood. It has been remarked how, through century after century, they carry so strong a family likeness; and the spectator may also observe that there is a sort of unity, with judicious variations, in the nature of their costume, such as may be seen in the characters of a well-adjusted play. Jamesone was naturally the man to whom tradition pointed as the painter of these portraits. But there is no evidence that he gave himself to the pious fraud of setting forth likenesses of men whose features—such of them as ever existed—had been permitted to pass into oblivion. Whoever commenced the gallery, the artist who is known to have made a complete job of it was a Dutchman named De Wit; and, for the credit of art, it is a pleasant thing to know that his name was Jacob, and that there is no excuse for throwing the scandal of his paltry forgeries on that passionate devotee of art, Emanuel De Wit, whose crowded interiors are the very soul of truth and distinctness. Jacob De Wit, indeed, appears to have been a mechanic and an artist by turns, as he was hired. The job of painting the kings he completed in 1686; and some ten years. earlier we find him drawing coats of arms, graining chimney-pieces in imitation of marble, and doing "ane piece of history" for the ceiling of the royal bedroom.

There is a landscape picture of King's College in Aberdeen, attributed, but without distinct authority, to Jamesone. If it be truly his, it shows that he was wise in restricting himself in general to portraiture, though the piece has its value, as informing us of the nature of the architectural character of some portions of the building which have since disappeared. In that edifice there hangs a collection of strange, musty, decayed pictures, also attributed to Jamesone, which have a curious fascination in their quaint and almost eldrich character. They are called "the Sibyls," and all represent female heads, yet certainly not ordinary female portraits, for there is an airy, wild fantasticalness of expression mixed with beauty in them, and in some instances peculiarities of corporeal structure not quite human. A general delicacy and sweetness of tone distinguishes them from the Temptations of St Anthony, and other fantasies of the contemporary Flemish school.

Walpole, who was pleased, in one of his complimentary moods, to call Scotland "the most accomplished nation in Europe—the nation to which, if any one country is endowed with a superior portion of sense, he should be inclined to give the preference in that particular "—had the merit of first drawing attention to the works of Jamesone, as the first eminent British portrait-painter—that is, the first inhabitant of Britain who painted, like a trained artist, life-size portraits in oil. The great critic says of him: "His excellency consists in delicacy and softness, with a clear and beautiful colouring; his shades not charged, but helped by varnish, with little appearance of the pencil. He had much of Vandyk’s second manner; and to Sir Anthony some of his works have been occasionally imputed." Walpole, in his anecdotes, re-engraved an old plate from one of Jamesone’s pictures, representing an extremely pleasing family group. It is the artist himself—his hat on his head, after the practice of his master and his colleague, and his pallet in hand. Beside him stands the faithful partner of his days, Isabella Tosh by name, and their round-cheeked child drops roses on the mother’s lap. There is a delightful repose and simplicity in the whole, accompanied by perfect truth. Isabella has her head covered with the modest plaid or "screen" long worn in the north, and has a feminine beauty which the first artists of that age could rarely impart to their female faces. The child is the perfection of health, vivacity, and reverential affection. It is a strange contrast this peaceful little group with the array of the warriors and statesmen of that stormy age, portrayed by the same pencil.

The plate thus resuscitated by Walpole was originally engraved by John Alexander, a grandson of Jamesone, who might also, if there were sufficient materials at hand concerning him, exemplify the Scottish student of art in foreign countries. He seems to have been the first among them who studied in Italy, for the little that is known of him is that he lived a long time in Florence. On his return to Britain he enjoyed some fashionable repute in his day. It is said that he worked chiefly at Gordon Castle, where probably some of the pictures which, in great houses, after a generation or two, lose their artistic genealogies, might be traced to him, were it a sufficiently important object to ascertain the fact, either on account of the merits of the pictures or the celebrity of the artist. His fame, indeed, has lain under a sort of artistic scandal, which cannot recommend it to association with high and worthy names in honest art. The possession of a genuine ancestral portrait of Queen Mary has always been, in advertising phraseology, "a desideratum" in old Scottish families. Two painters of the early part of last century, this Alexander and a dissipated son of Sir John Medina, are said to have competed with each other in the trade or mystery of producing the kind of article called "a genuine and original portrait of Mary Queen of Scots."

A very different person from either of these worthies comes next before us in chronological order, yet he is one of whom little can be said. The name of William Aikman, celebrated in its day by more than one distinguished poet, is now forgotten. But his character, as exemplified in his personal history, will deserve the sympathy of the lovers of art so long as the sacrifice of all worldly advantages at this shrine, and a simple devotion to art for itself, pursued in defiance of conventional prejudices, are respected. Aikman was born some twelve years before the end of the seventeenth century, and he was then born a laird, being come of a worshipful ancestry, who left him, as their representative, heir to the estate of Cairnie. There are several Cairnies in Scotland, and it is not very surprising that it should be a question which of then owned one who was so little conscious of the importance of his possession.

He resolved very early in life to sell his estate and become a student of art in Italy. After living and working for some time in Rome, he paid a visit to Constantinople and Syria, and returned to Rome to pursue his studies. Towards the end of Queen Anne’s reign he came to Britain, and found fin-mediate admission to the brilliant London intellectual circle ever associated with that reign. It was breaking up, but not yet gone, and Aikman was the means of in some measure conveying its mantle to such successors of that intellectual hierarchy as the reign of the Georges afforded. As a kindred spirit free of the corporation of Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot, he was enabled to introduce to fashionable fame his countryman James Thomson the poet, and to do many acts of patronage to authors, who commemorated his merits in abundant rhymes.


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