[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]
The Art Galleries – The National Gallery The Various Collections – The Royal Scottish Academy – Early Scottish Artists – The Institution – The First Exhibition in Edinburgh – Foundation of the Academy – Presidents: G. Watson, Sir William Allan, Sir J. W. Gordon, Sir George Harvey, Sir Daniel Macnee – The Spalding Fund.
THEIR objects being akin, the Royal Institution and Art Galleries stand in convenient proximity to each other. The formation of the latter was one of the results of the Report, referred to, by Sir John Shaw Lefevre on the constitution of the Board of Manufactures; and subsequent negotiations with the Treasury led to the erection of the Galleries, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Prince Consort on the 30th of August, 1850, and they were opened in 1859. The Treasury furnished £30,000, the Board £20,000, and the city a portion of the site at a nominal rate. By these arrangements the Scottish people have a noble National Gallery of great and increasing value, and the Royal Scottish Academy has also been provided with saloons for its annual exhibitions.
Designed by W. H. Playfair, the Galleries are so situated that a railway tunnel crosses beneath their foundation and a lofty green bank overlooks the south end. They form a cruciform edifice, the main length of which lies north and south, with a broad and high transept intersecting the centre; at the south and north ends, or fronts, are beautiful Ionic porticoes, and on each face of the transept is a handsome hexastyle Ionic portico. The eastern range is occupied by the Royal Scottish Academy’s Exhibition from February till May in each year, and the western range is permanently used as the National Gallery, containing a collection of paintings by old masters and modern artists and a few works of sculpture, among which, terminating the long vista of the saloons, is Flaxman’s fine statue of Robert Burns. The first of these contains specimens of the Flemish, Dutch, and French schools of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the central or second saloon specimens of the Italian, Venetian, Genoese, Florentine, Flemish, and other schools of the same period; while the third room is devoted to examples of the Scottish school.
The collections generally include some fine specimens of Vandyke, Titian, Tintoretto, Velasquez, Paul Veronese, Spagnoletto, Rembrandt, and others. There is also a noble series of portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Henry Raeburn, George Watson (first President of the Academy), Sir John Watson Gordon, and Graham Gilbert. In one of the rooms set apart for modern works may be seen Sir Noel Paton’s two wonderful pictures of Oberon and Titania; others by Erskine Nicol, Herdman, Faed, W. Fettes, Douglas, James Drummond, Sir George Harvey, Horatio Macculloch, R. S. Lauder, Roberts, Dyce, and Etty, from whose brush there are those colossal paintings of “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” and “The Woman Interceding for the Vanquished.”
Among the many fine paintings bequeathed to this Scottish Gallery is Gainsborough’s celebrated portrait of Mrs. Graham, depicting a proud and beautiful girl, grief for whose death in early life caused her husband, the future Lord Lynedoch, “the hero of Barossa,” to have it covered up that he might never look upon it again. There are also some beautiful and delicate works by Greuze, the gift of Lady Murray; and one by Thomson of Duddingstone, presented by Lady Stuart of Allanbank; and Landseer’s “Rent Day in the Wilderness,” a Jacobite subject, bequeathed by the late Sir Roderick Murchison, Bart.
Not the least interesting works here are a few that were among the last touched by deceased artists, and left unfinished on their easels, such as Wilkie’s “John Knox Dispensing the Sacrament at Calder House,” of which a few of the faces alone are outlined; and the great and accurately detailed picture of the battle of Bannockburn.
There is a small full-length picture of Burns, painted by Nasmyth, as a memento of the poet, and another by the same artist, presented by the poet’s son, Colonel W. Nicol Burns, and a fine portrait of Sir John Moore, the property of the officers of the Black Watch.
The choice collection of water colours embraces some of the best works of “Grecian” Williams; a series of drawings bequeathed to the Gallery by Mr. Scott, including examples of Robert Cattermole, Collins, Cox, Girtin, Prout, Nash, and Cristall; and a set of studies of the most striking peculiarities of the Dutch, Spanish, Venetian, and Flemish schools. Of great interest, too, are the waxen models by Michael Angelo.
The Gallery also contains a collection of marbles and bronzes, bequeathed by Sir James Erskine of Torrie, and a cabinet of medallion portraits and casts from gems, by James and William Tassie, the celebrated modellers, who, though born of obscure parents in Renfrewshire, acquired such fame and reputation that the first cabinets in Europe were open to their use.
The Royal Scottish Academy of Painting and Sculpture had its origin early in the present century, though in past times the Scottish School of Painters ranked among its number several celebrities. Of these the most noted was George Jameson, born at Aberdeen in 1586; he studied under Rubens, and won himself the name of the Scottish Vandyke. Charles I. sat to him for his portrait, as did many other great Scotsmen of the period. He was succeeded by the elder Scougal, a painter of many works; Scougal the younger; De Witte; Nicolas Hude, a French Protestant refugee; John Baptisto Medina, a native of Brussels, whose son John was a “Limner” in Hyndford’s Close in 1784; Aikman; Wait; Allan Ramsay (son of the poet); Norrie, the landscape painter; the Runcimans, Brown, and latterly David Allan, Graham, Wilkie, Gibson, Thomson, Raeburn, and the Watsons.
The first movement towards fostering native art was, undoubtedly, the appointment by the Board of Trustees, in 1760, of a permanent master for the instruction of the youth of both sexes in drawing, thus laying the foundation of a School of Design. The second important organisation was that named the “Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts,” founded on the 1st of February, 1819, on the model of the British Institution of London, for the annual exhibition of pictures by old masters, and subsequently those of living artists. It consisted chiefly of gentlemen, who, on the payment of £50, became shareholders or life-members. The first exhibition by the Institution was in York Place, in March, 1819, but owing to certain complications between it and artists generally, they were, even if members, not permitted to exercise the slightest control over the funds.
Prior to this time the leading artists resident in Edinburgh had associated together for the purpose of having an annual exhibition of their works, which was also held in York Place. The first of these occurred in 1808, and Lord Cockburn refers to it as the most gratifying occurrence of the period, and as one that “proclaimed the dawn of modern Scottish art.”
Among the pictures shown on that auspicious occasion the catalogue records three by George Watson, including the portrait of the celebrated Bishop Hay; three by A. Nasmyth; two by Douglas, one being a portrait of Mrs. Boswell of Auchinleck; three fancy pictures by Carse; “The Earl of Buchan crowning Master Gattie,” by W. Lizars; a black chalk landscape by Thomson; and in the succeeding year, 1809, the catalogue mentions, briefly noted, five by Raeburn, including his Walter Scott; three by Gorge Watson, one being the “Portrait of an Old Scots Jacobite;” three by Thomson of Duddingston; a fancy picture of Queen Mary, by John Watson, afterwards Sir J. W. Gordon.
Carse, called the Teniers of Scotland, died early; but “this exhibition did incalculable good. It drew such artists as we had out of their obscurity; it showed them their strength and their weakness: it excited public attention: it gave them importance.”
During five exhibitions, between 1809 and 1813, the members thus associated saved £1,888, but not being sufficiently restricted by their laws from dissolving at any time, the sum amassed proved a temptation, and it was divided among the exhibitors. The Society then broke up and dispersed, and it was while they were in this state of disorganisation that the Directors of the Institution, finding the old masters not sufficiently attractive to the public, made overtures to the artists for an exhibition of modern pictures and sculpture under their auspices, and to set the proceeds aside for the benefit of the said artists and their families.
Thus the first exhibition of the works of living artists under the direction of the Institution took place in 1821, and it proved such a success that it was repeated yearly till 1829.
The Institution had in 1826, besides one hundred and thirty-one ordinary members, thirteen honorary, five of whom were artists, under the title of Associate Members, and the exhibitions were held in the Galleries of the Royal Institution, for which an annual rent of £380 was paid; but as great discontent was expressed by artists who were Associate Members, because they were denied all consideration in the management in the year mentioned, they resolved to found a Scottish Academy.
It was in the summer of 1826 that the document by which this important movement was inaugurated went round for signature in the hands of Mr. William Nicholson. When published, twenty-four names appeared to it: those of thirteen Academicians, nice Associates, and two Associate Engravers.
The first general meeting of “The Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture,” was held on the 27th of May, 1826, Mr. Patrick Syme in the chair, and the following gentlemen were elected as office-bearers for the year:- George Watson, President; William Nicholson, Secretary; Thomas Hamilton, Treasurer. The Council consisted of four.
Mr. George Watson, who has been justly deemed the founder of the Academy, was the son of John Watson of Overmains, in Berwickshire, his mother being Frances Veitch, of the Elliock family. He was a cousin of Sir Walter Scott’s, and was born in 1767. He studied art under Nasmyth and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and before the time of his election had won a high reputation as a portrait painter. From 1808 to 1812 he was President of the Associated Artists of Scotland. His brother, Captain Watson, R.N., was the father of Sir John Watson-Gordon, also a president of the Academy; and his nephew, William Stewart Watson, was an artist of some repute, whose chief work is the “Inauguration of Burns as Poet Laureate or Grand Bard,” now in the Masonic Hall, George Street, and, as a collection of portraits, is historically curious. George Watson’s son, W. Smellie Watson, was also R.S.A., and died in No. 10 Forth Street in 1874, the same house in which his father had held some early exhibitions about the close of the last century or beginning of the present.
The President and Council resolved that the first exhibition of their infant Academy should take place early in February, 1827, in two large galleries which they rented, in 24 Waterloo Place, for three months at eighty guineas, and subsequently at one hundred and thirty pounds per annum. Opposed by those who should have aided it, the Academy had a hard struggle for a time in the first years of its existence. Application was made to the Home Secretary, the future Sir Robert Peel, for a charter of incorporation, and it was favourably viewed by those in office, and submitted to the Lord Advocate. But though the application was generously and warmly seconded by Sir Thomas Lawrence, then President of the Royal Academy of London, it was put off for two years, “and ultimately refused,” says Sir George Harvey “on grounds which the Academy could never learn; and though they applied for permission to do so, they were never allowed to peruse the document which induced his lordship to decide against their claim… Curiously enough, although the request of the Academy for a charter of incorporation was at this time denied, the Institution had that distinction conferred upon it, and henceforth came to be designated the Royal Institution.”
The first general exhibition of the Scottish Academy being advertised for February, 1827, “the Royal Institution, under the immediate patron- age of His Majesty,” was, in a spirit of genuine opposition, advertised to open at the same time; but by the time of the third Exhibition, “the Royal Institution,” says Sir George, “was fairly driven out of the field;” and among the contributors were the future Sir Francis Grant, John Linnell, and John Martin, and one of Etty’s magnificent works, now the property of the Academy, was for the first time hung upon its walls, while many Scottish artists in London or elsewhere, watched with patriotic interest the progress of art in their native land, and the Institution rapidly began to take a subordinate position; and by a minute of the 10th July, 1829, twenty-four of its artists, weary of its rule, were admitted as members of the Scottish Academy, thus raising the numerical force of the latter to thirty-nine. Eventually the number of Academicians became forty-two. In the rank of Associate Engravers was the well-known William Lizars, for as the law stood then he could not be elected an Academician, engravers being then limited to the position of Associate, but after a time they were rendered eligible to occupy any rank in the Academy.
George Watson, the first President of the Scottish Academy, died on the 24th of August, 1837, at No. 10 Forth Street, in his seventieth year. For a long time previously his occupation of the chair had been nominal, his age and declining health precluding his attendance at council meetings. A white marble slab in the west wall of the West Kirkyard marks his grave and that of “Rebecca Smellie, his spouse, who died 5th May, 1839, aged 74 years.”
In the subsequent November William Allan, R.A. (afterwards knighted), was elected president, and during his term of office the long-desired object was accomplished, and the Academy came to be designated at last “The Royal Scottish Academy,” incorporated by royal charter on the 13th of August, 1838, consisting now of thirty Academicians and twenty Associates – a consummation of their wishes for which they were greatly indebted to the warm and earnest interest of Lord Cockburn.
By its charter the Academy is to consist of artists by profession, being men of fair moral character and of high repute in art, settled and resident in Scotland at the dates of their elections. It ordains that there shall be an annual exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and designs, in which all artists of distinguished merit may be permitted to exhibit their works, to continue open six weeks or longer. It likewise ordains that so soon as the funds of the Academy will allow it, there shall be in the Royal Scottish Academy professors of painting, sculpture, architecture, perspective, and anatomy, elected according to the laws framed for the Royal Academy of London; and that there shall be schools to provide the means of studying the human form with respect both to anatomical knowledge and taste of design, which shall consist of two departments; the one appropriated to the remains of ancient sculpture, and the other to the study of living models.
From that time matters went on peacefully and pleasantly till 1844, when a dispute about entrance to their galleries ensued with the subordinates of the Board of Manufactures, in whose building they were – a dispute ultimately smoothed over. In 1847 another ensued between the directors of the Royal Institution and the Academy, which led to some acrimonious correspondence; but all piques and jealousies between the Academy and the Royal Institution were ended by the erection of the Art Galleries, founded in 1850.
Six months before that event Sir William Allan, the second president, died on the 22nd of February, after occupying the presidential chair for thirteen years with much ability. It is to be regretted that no such good example of his genius as his “Death of Rizzio” finds a place in the Scottish National Gallery, his principal work there being his large unfinished picture of the “Battle of Bannockburn,” a patriotic labour of love, showing few of the best qualities of his master-hand, as it was painted literally when he was dying. “To those who were with Sir William in his latter days it was sadly interesting to see him wrapped up in blankets, cowering by his easel, with this great canvas stretched out before him, labouring on it assiduously, it may be truly said, till the day on which he died,” writes a brother artist, who has since followed him. “The constant and only companion of his studio, a longhaired, glossy Skye terrier, on his master’s death, refused to be comforted, to eat, or to live.”
His successor was Sir John Watson, who added the name of Gordon to his own. He was the son of Captain James Watson, R.N., who served in Admiral Digby’s squadron during the first American war. Among his earlier works were the “Shipwrecked Sailor,” “Queen Margaret and the Robber,” “A Boy with a Rabbit,” “The Sleeping Boy and Watching Girl” (his own brother and sister); but it was as a painter of portraits strictly that he made his high reputation; though it is said that the veteran, his father, when looking at the “Venus and Adonis” of Paul Veronese, declared it “hard as flints,” adding, “I wouldn’t give my Johnny’s ‘Shipwrecked Sailor’ for a shipload of such.”
In early life he lived with his father in 27 Anne Street, which he left regularly every morning at nine o’clock, “and walking down the beautiful and picturesque footpath that skirted the bank of the Water of Leith, he passed St. Bernard’s, where almost invariably he was joined by the portly figure of Sir Henry Raeburn. Engaged in conversation, no doubt beneficial to the younger but rising artist, they proceeded to Edinburgh – Raeburn to his gallery and painting-room, No. 32 York Place, and John Watson to his apartments in the first flat of No. 19 South St. David Street, or, latterly, 24 South Frederick Street.”
During his presidency the Art Galleries were completed and opened. By the Act 13 and 14 Vict., cap. 86, the entire building and property were vested in the Board of Manufactures, as well as the appropriation of the buildings when completed, subject to the approbation of the Treasury, without the sanction of which no fee for admittance was to be charged on any occasion, except to the annual exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy. “The general custody and maintenance of the whole building shall be vested in the Board of Manufactures,” says the Government minute of 28th February, 1858; “but the Royal Scottish Academy shall have the entire charge of the council-room and library and of the exhibition galleries during their annual exhibitions.”
After continuing in the exercise of his profession until within a few weeks of his death, Sir John Watson died at his house in George Street, 1st June, 1864, in his seventy-sixth year, having been born in 1788.
He was succeeded as president and trustee by Sir George Harvey, born in Stirlingshire in 1805, and well known as a painter successfully of historical subjects and tableaux de genre, many of them connected with the stirring events of the Covenant. He became a Scottish Academician in 1829, since when his popularity spread far and wide by the dissemination of numerous engravings from his works. He was president only twelve years, and died at Edinburgh on the 22nd of January, 1876, in his seventy-first year.
He was succeeded by Sir Daniel Macnee, R.S.A., who was also born in Stirlingshire in 1806, and began early to study at the Trustees’ Academy with Duncan, Lauder, Scott, and other artists of native repute. He rapidly became a favourite portrait painter in both countries, and his famous portrait of the Rev. Dr. Wardlaw won a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1855. He has painted many of the most prominent men of the time, among them Lord Brougham for the College of Justice at Edinburgh.
In connection with Scottish art we may here refer to the Spalding Fund, of which the directors of the Royal Institution were constituted trustees by the will of Peter Spalding, who died in 1826, leaving property, “the interest or annual proceeds whereof are to be applied for ever for the support of decayed and superannuated artists.” This property consisted mainly of ancient houses, situated in the old town, the free proceeds of which were only £220. It was sold, and the whole value of it, amounting t0 £5,420 10s., invested in Bank of Scotland and British Linen Company Stock, and has been so carefully husbanded that the directors now possess stock to the value of more than £6,618. “It was originally given in annuities varying from £50 to £100 a year; but the directors some years ago thought it advisable to restrict the amount of these, so as to extend the benefit of the fund over a larger number of annuitants, and they now do not give annuities to a larger amount than £35, and they require that the applications for these shall in all cases be accompanied by a recommendation from two members of the Royal Scottish Academy who know the circumstances of the applicant.”