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The Scottish Nation

GEDDES, ANDREW, an eminent artist, the son of Mr. David Geddes, auditor of excise, was born at Edinburgh, about 1789. A small but valuable collection of pictures and prints, in the possession of his father, is believed to have stimulated in his mind, at an early age, that ardent love of art for which he was in after life so greatly distinguished. He was educated at the old High School of his native city, and used to speak of the time he was compelled to devote to Greek and Latin as so much time lost. It was, however, his father’s wish that he should be a scholar, and he always yielded implicit obedience to the parental will. Although his inclination for the profession of a painter was not encouraged, he devoted all his spare time to the study of art, rising at four o’clock in the morning in summer, for the purpose of drawing and painting, his studio being an attic adjoining his bedroom.

Even at this time he was a collector of prints, and constantly attended the print sales of Mr. William Martin, bookseller and auctioneer in Edinburgh. This personage was a character in his way. He had been bred a shoemaker, but like the celebrated Lackington of London, became a bookseller, and held a regular auction-mart of prints and old books. He knew the general extent of the funds of young Geddes, and when a lot of prints was generally going for ninepence or tenpence, he would encourage him by such words as “Noo, my bonny wee man – noo’s your time,” and, on the contrary, would give him a most significant shake of the head when he saw him looking wistfully after a lot that seemed likely to bring a higher sum, as if sharing in his disappointment.

When very young, Mr. Geddes met with a friend in the well-known John Clerk, advocate, afterwards a judge of the court of session, under the title of Lord Eldin. This gentleman generously allowed him admission to his splendid collection of paintings and drawings by the old masters, and even lent him the most valuable of his drawings. At the exhibition his copies of these were so successfully done as to pass for the originals, greatly to the satisfaction of Mr. Clerk and the young artist, and even of his father, who had other objects in view for him.

From the High School, young Geddes was removed to the university of Edinburgh, but before the expiration of the usual term of study, he was placed by his father in his own office, in which arrangement he acquiesced without a murmur. Five years afterwards his father died. On becoming his own master, by the advice of Mr. Clerk and others of his friends, he resigned his appointment in the excise, proceeded to London, and entered as a student at the Royal Academy. The first person beside whom he took his seat there was his countryman Wilkie, and between him and that great painter an intimacy arose which ended only with the death of the latter. Among his contemporaries at the academy were also John Jackson and the ill-fated Haydon.

After a few years of diligent study, he returned to Edinburgh in 1810, when Mr. Clerk, his earliest patron and friend, entertaining the highest opinion of his taste, employed him to purchase for his collection various works of art. He soon began to exercise his profession, and was much employed in painting full-length, life-sized portraits, and others of smaller dimensions. Mr. Archibald Constable, the celebrated published, prevailed upon Mr. Martin, his old friend, the print auctioneer, to sit for an hour to him for his portrait; but the sketch was never finished, as he could not be induced to sit a second time. Although rough, it was esteemed a capital likeness, and at the sale of Mr. Constable’s effects it was purchased by a friend of Mr. Martin.

Mr. Geddes remained in Edinburgh till 1814, visiting London every year, when he attended the sales of works of art, and made purchases for himself and others on commission. During his residence in Edinburgh, he had commenced etching, but none of his works in this department of art were ever published.

At the peace in 1814, accompanied by Mr. John Burnet, the eminent engraver, he visited Paris, with the view of seeing the many magnificent object of art with which the conquests of the great Napoleon and his generals had enriched the French capital. Having copied some of the paintings at the Louvre, they extended their tour to Flanders, through which country they returned to London.

Among the most characteristic works of Mr. Geddes at this period is a small full-length portrait of Wilkie, in the possession of the earl of Camperdown, engraved in mezzotinto by Ward; a portrait of Henry Mackenzie, ‘the Man of Feeling,’ a small full-length, engraved by Rhodes; a portrait of Dr. Chalmers, life size, engraved by Ward, and one of a Mr. Oswald, engraved by Hodgetts.

The discovery of the Regalia of Scotland in the castle of Edinburgh, in February 1818, was commemorated by Mr. Geddes in an historical composition, which embodied portraits of many of the most distinguished men of Edinburgh at the time, and among them one of Sir Walter Scott.

In 1827, Mr. Geddes married. Among his works at this period was his portrait of Frederick, duke of York, pronounced by his brother, George IV., to be the best likeness ever painted of that prince, who died that year.

In 1828, Mr. Geddes made a tour in Italy, and remained some time in Rome. The summer of 1829 he passed at Subiaco, where he painted on the spot the landscape which was afterwards hung on the walls of the Royal Academy at London. He returned home by Germany and France, and arrived in London in January 1831. The following year he was admitted a member of the academy. His power in the highest walk of art is evinced in his altar-piece in the church of St. James, Garlick Hill, and his picture of ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria.’

Mr. Geddes died of consumption, May 5, 1844. The materials for this memoir have mainly been supplied from the ‘Art-Union’ for Sept. 1844.

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