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The Scottish Nation

RUNCIMAN, ALEXANDER, a celebrated painter, the son of an architect, was born at Edinburgh in 1736. He early evinced a decided taste for drawing, and while yet a mere boy employed himself almost constantly in sketching landscapes. In 1750 he was sent as an apprentice to Messrs. John and Robert Norrie, house-painters in his native city, and under the instructions of the former, whose mantle-piece decorations were much admired at the time, he made rapid improvement. After studying as a pupil in the academy of the brothers Foulis at Glasgow, he began, about 1755, to paint landscapes professionally, and this department of art he pursued for about five years with increasing reputation, but with little profit. In 1700 he was induced to commence historical painting, a branch in which he found greater encouragement than in portraying rural scenery. – His portrait is subjoined.

[portrait of Alexander Runciman]

Having attracted the notice of Sir James Clerk of Penicuick, baronet, then a chief patron of Scottish art, he was, in 1766, sent by that gentleman to Italy, to study the works of the great masters; and, while in that country, he made such a good use of his opportunities as to excel many of his contemporaries, particularly in the rich yet chastened style of colouring of the Venetian school. He returned to Scotland in 1771, and the same year was appointed, by the trustees for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures, master of the academy established at Edinburgh for the study of drawing, with a salary of £120. His principal work, of which the design was entirely his own, was the paintings in the Hall of Ossian at Penicuick. To this great undertaking he devoted himself so closely as to contract an illness, from which he never recovered, from being obliged to lie constantly on his back while decorating the ceiling with scenes from Ossian’s Poems. These paintings, with the picture of ‘The Ascension’ on the ceiling above the altar of the old Episcopal chapel, Cowgate, Edinburgh; his ‘King Lear;’ his ‘Andromeda;’ and his ‘Agrippina landing with the Ashes of Germanicus,’ fully established his fame as an historical painter. He executed several other pieces, of most of which engravings were published. He died October 21, 1785, dropping down suddenly on the street, when about to enter his lodgings. His brother, John Runciman, was also a painter of some eminence in his day.

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