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Significant Scots
Robert Strange


Robert StrangeSTRANGE, (SIR) ROBERT, Knight, the father of the line manner of engraving in Britain, was born in the island of Pomona, in Orkney, July 14, 1721. He was lineally descended from Sir David Strange, or Strang, a younger son of the family of Strang of Balcaskie, in Fife, who had settled in Orkney at the time of the Reformation. He received a classical education at Kirkwall, under the care of Mr Murdoch Mackenzie, teacher there, and who rendered some estimable service to his country by accurate surveys of the Orkney islands, and of the British and Irish coasts.

The subject of this memoir successively applied himself to the law and to the sea, before his talent for sketching pointed out the propriety of his making art his profession. Some sketches shown by a friend to Mr Richard Cooper, an engraver of some eminence in Edinburgh, and approved by him, led to Mr Strange being placed under that individual as an apprentice; and the rapid progress he made in his new profession soon showed that he had only now for the first time fallen into the line of life for which he was destined by nature. He was practising his art in Edinburgh on his own account, when, in September, 1745, the Highland army took possession of the city. Mr Strange was not only himself well-inclined to this cause, but he had formed an attachment to a Miss Lumisden, [Sister to Mr Andrew Lumisden, a Jacobite partizan of some note, and who afterwards formed part of the household of prince Charles Stuart at Rome, of the antiquities of which city he published an account.] who had the same predilections. These circumstances, which his local notoriety as an engraver, pointed him out as a proper person to undertake a print of the young chevalier. While employed on this work, his lodgings in Stewart’s Close were daily resorted to by the chief officers and friends of the prince, together with many of the most distinguished ladies attached to his cause. The portrait, when completed, was looked upon as a wonder of art; and it is still entitled to considerable praise. It was a half length in an oval frame on a stone pedestal, on which is engraved "EVERSO MISSUS SUCCURRERE SECLO." As a reward for his services, he was offered a place in the finance department of the prince’s army, or, as another account states, in the troop of Life Guards; which partly at the instigation of his mistress, who otherwise threatened to withdraw her favour from him, he accepted. He therefore served throughout the remainder of the campaign. Soon after the battle of Falkirk, while riding along the shore, the sword which he carried in his hand was bent by a ball from one of the king’s vessels stationed a little way out at sea. Having surmounted all the perils of the enterprise, he had to sculk for his life in the Highlands, where he endured many hardships. On the restoration of quiet times, he ventured back to Edinburgh and supported himself for some time by drawing portraits of the favourite Jacobite leaders, which were disposed of to the friends of the cause at a guinea each. A few, also, which he had destined for his mistress, and on that account adorned with the utmost of his skill, were sold about this period with a heavy heart to the earl of Wemyss, from whom, in better times, he vainly endeavoured to purchase them back. In 1747, he proceeded to London, but not before he had been rewarded for all his distresses by the fair hand of Miss Lumisden. Without waiting long in the metropolis, he went to Rouen, where a number of his companions in the late unfortunate war were living in exile, and where he obtained an honorary prize given by the academy. He afterwards resided for some time at Paris, where he studied with great assiduity under the celebrated Le Bas, who taught him the use of the dry needle. In 1751, he returned to London, and settled as an engraver, devoting himself chiefly to historical subjects, which he handled in so masterly a manner that he soon attracted considerable notice. In 1759, when he had resolved to visit Italy, for his further improvement, Mr Allan Ramsay intimated to him that it would be agreeable to the prince of Wales and the earl of Bute, if he would undertake the engraving of two portraits which he had just painted for those eminent personages. Mr Strange refused, on the plea of his visit to Italy, which would thus be put off for a considerable time, and he is said to have thus lost the favour of the royal preceptor, which was afterwards of material disadvantage to him, although the king ultimately approved of his conduct, on the ground that the portraits were not worthy, as works of art, of being commemorated by him.

Mr Strange set out for Italy in 1760, and in the course of his tour visited Naples, Florence, and other distinguished seats of the arts. He was everywhere treated with the utmost attention and respect by persons of every rank. He was made a member of the academies of Rome, Florence, and Bologna, and professor of the royal academy at Parma. His portrait was introduced by Roffanelli, amongst those of other distinguished engravers, into a painting on the ceiling of that room in the Vatican library where the engravings are kept. He had also the distinguished honour of being permitted to erect a scaffold in one of the rooms of that magnificent palace for the purpose of taking a drawing of the Parnassus of Raphael; a favour not previously granted for many years to any petitioning artist. And an apartment was assigned for his own abode, while engaged in this employment. A similar honour was conferred upon him at the palace of the king of Naples, where he wished to copy a celebrated painting by Schidoni. Mr Strange’s drawings were in coloured crayons; an invention of his own, and they were admired by all who saw them. He subsequently engraved prints on a splendid scale from about fifty of the paintings which he had thus copied in Italy. [The following are among the principal engravings by Sir Robert Strange;—Two heads of himself, one an etching, the other a finished proof; The Return from Market by Wouvermans; Cupid by Vanloo; Mary Magdalen; Cleopatra; the Madonna; the Angel Gabriel; the Vrgin with the child asleep; Liberality and Modesty, by Guido; Apollo rewarding merit and punishing arrogance, by Andrea Sacchi; the Finding of Romulus and Remus, by Pietro de Cortona; Caesar repudiating Pompeia, by the same; Three children of Charles I., by Vandyke; Belisarius, by Salvator Rosa; St Agnes, by Domenichino; the Judgment of Hercules, by Nicolas Poussin; Venus attired by the Graces, by Guido; Justice and Meekness, by Raphael; the Offspring of Love by Guido; Cupid Sleeping, by the same; Abraham giving up the handmaid Hagar, by Guercino; Esther, a suppliant before Ahasuerus, by the same; Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, by Guido; Venus, by the same; Danae, by the same; Portrait of Charles I. by Vandyke; the Madonna, by Corregio; St Cecilia, by Raphael; Mary Magdalen, by Guido; Our Saviour appearing to his Mother after his resurrection, by Guercino; A Mother and Child by Parmegiano; Cupid Meditating, by Schidoni; Laomedon, king of Troy, detected by Neptune and Apollo, by Salvator Rosa. Sir Robert, near the close of his life, formed about eighty reserved proof copies of his best prints into as many volumes, to which he added a general title-page, and an introduction on the progress of engraving.]

The subsequent part of the life of Mr Strange was spent in London, where he did not acquire the favour of the court till 1787, when he was knighted. A letter by him to lord Bute, reflecting on some instances of persecution which he thought he traced to that nobleman, appeared in 1775 and was subsequently prefixed to an "Inquiry into the Rise and Establishment of the Royal Academy at London," which was provoked from his pen by a law of that institution against the admission of engravings into the exhibitions. After a life spent in the active exercise of his professional talents, he died of an asthmatical complaint on the 5th of July, 1792, leaving, besides his lady, a daughter and three sons. Sir Robert has been described by his surviving friends, as one of the most amiable and virtuous of men, as he was unquestionably among the most able in his own peculiar walk. He was unassuming, benevolent, and liberal. His industry was equally remarkable with his talent. In the coldest seasons, when health permitted him, he went to work with the dawn, and the longest day was too short to fatigue his hand. Even the most mechanical parts of his labours he would generally perform himself, choosing rather to undergo a drudgery so unsuitable to his talents than trust to others. His remains were interred in Covent Garden church-yard.


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