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Significant Scots
Patrick Gibson


GIBSON, PATRICK, an eminent artist and writer upon art, was born at Edinburgh, in November, 1782. He was the son of respectable parents, who gave him an excellent classical education, partly at the High School, and partly at a private academy. In his school-boy days, he manifested a decided taste for literature, accompanied by a talent for drawing figures, which induced his father to place him as an apprentice under Mr Nasmyth, the distinguished landscape-painter; who was, in this manner, the means of bringing forward many men of genius in the arts. Contemporay with Mr Gibson, as a student in this school, was Mr Nasmth’s son Peter; and it is painful to think, that both of these ingenious pupils should have gone down to the grave before their master. Mr Nasmyth’s academy was one in no ordinary degree advantageous to his apprentices: such talents as they possessed were generally brought into speedy use in painting and copying landscapes, which he himself finished and sold; and thus they received encouragement from seeing works, of which a part of the merit was their own, brought rapidly into the notice of the world. About the same time, Mr Gibson attended the trustees’ academy, then taught with distinguished success by Mr Graham. While advancing in the practical part of his profession, Mr Gibson, from his taste for general study, paid a greater share of attention to the branches of knowledge connected with it, than the most of artists had it in their power to bestow. He studied the mathematics with particular care, and attained an acquaintance with perspective, and with the theory of art in general, which was in his own lifetime quite unexampled in Scottish—perhaps in British art. Mr Gibson, indeed, might rather be described as a man of high literary and scientific accomplishments, pursuing art as a profession, than as an artist, in the sense in which that term is generally understood. In landscape painting, he showed a decided preference for the classical style of Domenichino and. Nicholas Poussin; and having studied architectural drawing with much care, he became remarkably happy in the views of temples and other classical buildings, which he introduced into his works. When still a very young man, Mr Gibson went to London, and studied the best works of art to be found in that metropolis, - the state of the continent at that time preventing him from pursuing his investigations any further.

Mr Gibson painted many landscapes, which have found their way into the collections of the most respectable amateurs in his native country. His own exquisitely delicate and fastidious taste, perhaps prevented him from attaining full success at first, but he was continually improving; and, great as the triumphs of his pencil ultimately were, it is not too much to say, that, if life had been spared to him, he must have reached still higher degrees of perfection.

Mr Gibson’s professional taste and skill, along with his well known literary habits, pointed him out as a proper individual to write, not only criticisms upon the works of modem art brought under public notice, but articles upon the fundamental principles of the fine arts, in works embracing miscellaneous knowledge. He contributed to the Encyclopedia Edinensis an elaborate article under the head "Design," embracing the history, theory, and practice of painting, sculpture, and engraving, and concluding with an admirable treatise on his favourite subject, "Linear Perspective." This article extends to one hundred and six pages of quarto, in double columns, and is illustrated by various drawings. It is, perhaps, the best treatise on the various subjects which it embraces, ever contributed to an encyclopaedia. To Dr Brewster’s more extensive work, entitled the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, Mr Gibson contributed the articles, Drawing, Engraving, and Miniature-painting, all of which attracted notice, for the full and accurate knowledge upon which they appeared to be based. In the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1816, published in 1820, being edited by Mr J. G. Lockhart, was an article by Mr Gibson, entitled "A View of the Progress and Present State of the Art of Design in Britain." It is written with much discrimination and judgment, and is certainly worthy of being transferred into some more extended sphere of publication than the local work in which it appeared. An article of a similar kind, but confined to the progress of the Fine Arts in Scotland, appeared in the New Edinburgh Review, edited by Dr Richard Poole. In 1818, Mr Gibson published a thin quarto volume, entitled "Etchings of Select Views in Edinburgh, with letter-press descriptions." The subjects chiefly selected were either street scenes about to be altered by the removal of old buildings, or parts opened up temporarily by the progress of improvements, and which therefore could never again be observable in the point of view chosen by the artist. The most remarkable critical effort of Mr Gibson was an anonymous jeu d’esprit, published in 1822, in reference to the exhibition of the works of living artists then open, under the care of the Royal Institution for the encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland. It assumed the form of a report, by a society of Cognoscenti, upon these works of art, and treated the merits of the Scottish painters, Mr Gibson himself included, with great candour and impartiality. The style of this pamphlet, though in no case unjustly severe, was so different from the indulgent remarks of periodical writers, whose names are generally known, and whose acquaintance with the artists too often forbids rigid truth, that it occasioned a high degree of indignation among the author’s brethren, and induced them to take some steps that only tended to expose themselves to ridicule. Suspecting that the traitor was a member of their own body, they commenced the subscription of a paper, disclaiming the authorship, and this being carried to many different artists for their adherence, was refused by no one till it came to Mr Gibson, who excused himself upon general principles from subscribing such a paper, and dismissed the intruders with a protest against his being supposed on that account to be the author. The real cause which moved Mr Gibson to put forth this half-jesting half-earnest criticism upon his brethren, was an ungenerous attack upon his own works, which had appeared in a newspaper the previous year, and which, though he did not pretend to trace it to the hand of any of his fellow labourers, was enjoyed, as he thought, in too malicious a manner by some, to whom he had formerly shown much kindness. He retained his secret, and enjoyed his joke, to the last, and it is only here that his concern in the pamphlet is for the first time disclosed.

In 1826, he gave to the world, "A Letter to the directors and managers of the Institution for the encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland." Towards the close of his life he had composed, with extraordinary care, a short and practical work on perspective, which was put to press, but kept back on account of his decease. It is to be hoped that a work composed on a most useful subject, by one so peculiarly qualified to handle it, will not be lost to the world.

In June, 1818, Mr Gibson was married to Miss Isabella M. Scott, daughter of his esteemed friend Mr William Scott, the well-known writer upon elocution. By this lady he had three daughters and a son, the last of whom died in infancy. In April, 1824, he removed from Edinburgh, where he had spent the most of his life, to Dollar, having accepted the situation of professor of painting in the academy founded at that village. In this scene, quite unsuited to his mind, he spent the last five years of his life, of which three were embittered in no ordinary degree by ill health. After enduring with manly and unshrinking fortitude the pains of an uncommonly severe malady, he expired, August 26, 1829, in the forty-sixth year of his age.

Mr Gibson was not more distinguished in public by his information, taste, and professional success, than he was in private by his upright conduct, his mild and affectionate disposition, and his righteous fulfilment of every moral duty. He possessed great talents in conversation, and could suit himself in such a manner to every kind of company, that old and young, cheerful and grave, were alike pleased. He had an immense fund of humour; and what gave it perhaps its best charm, was the apparently unintentional manner in which he gave it vent, and the fixed serenity of countenance which he was able to preserve, while all were laughing around him. There are few men in whom the elements of genius are so admirably blended with those of true goodness, and all that can render a man beloved, as they were in Patrick Gibson.


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