This instalment in our regional artists series heads to the highlands of Scotland, a neighbour to our northern studio in the border city of Carlisle, and famous Scottish artists inspired by the region. Our team loves to explore the history of the artworks and objects we care for, including their local connections and cultural significance. Previous articles from this series include Cumbria, Kent and The Cotswolds

Highland Cows - Famous Scottish Artists: Inspired by the HighlandsAbove: a highland landscape painting before and after restoration in our studio

Scotland has produced many great artists over the centuries, so we have been tempted to include a very large number of names in this list. To keep things concise, we have chosen a select few that have a fascinating background or story to tell. From Edinburgh and Glasgow to the Orkney Islands, this article will explore the many famous Scottish artists that have been inspired by their heritage.

George Jamesone (1587-1644)

Known as Scotland’s first celebrated portrait painter, Jamesone was born in Aberdeen and went on to be a prominent figure in 17th century British painting and was rumoured to have studied with the likes of Rubens and Van Dyck. 

George JamesoneAbove: a detail from an engraving after a self-portrait by George Jamesone

In 1633, King Charles I visited Edinburgh and witnessed a magnificent triumphal arch decorated with the past kings of Scotland, all painted by Jamesone for the occasion. The king was so impressed that he invited Jamesone to paint his portrait and gave him a ring on his finger as a reward. This event attracted members of the aristocracy to seek out Jamesone for their own portrait. To allow him to serve patrons in the north and south of Scotland, he had two studios in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. After his death in 1644, he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. 

John Michael Wright (1617-1694)

Training under George Jamesone in Edinburgh and the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, John Michael Wright was an eminent baroque portraitist. Serving both Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, Wright was able to find a position for himself within the complex and ever-changing politics of mid 17th century England. 

Michael Wright portraitAbove: a portrait of Sir John Corbet of Adderley by John Michael Wright, 1676

Wright’s use of realism could never quite compete with the grandeur of Peter Lely’s portraiture, having him miss out on becoming the official King’s Painter. Further issues arose for Wright after the glorious revolution of 1688, as William of Orange came to the throne. A convert to Roman catholicism, he fell out of favour with the new protestant rule. Wright died in poverty and is buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London. 

Allan Ramsay (1713-1784)

The son of a philosophical member of the Scottish enlightenment period, Ramsay was born in Edinburgh and studied under Swedish artist Hans Hysing. Ramsay was a prominent portrait painter, with his second wife he travelled Europe studying the Old Masters, whilst painting wealthy patrons on their Grand Tour. On his return, he was made Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George III.

Allan RamsayAbove: a selection of portraits by Allan Ramsay

Allan Ramsay’s most famous portraits include a full-length portrait of the Duke of Argyll, King George III and Queen Charlotte. You will find his art in the Royal Collection, National Gallery, and Glasgow Museum.

Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798)

Born in Lanarkshire, Hamilton was renowned for his neoclassical history paintings. After studying in Rome for many years, the focus of his art was often on classical antiquity. Although he briefly returned to London, he spent the majority of his life in Italy. Notable works include a cycle of six paintings featuring Homer’s Iliad. Hamilton was also a collector and dealer of classical sculptures and objects, excavating sites across Rome in search of ancient artefacts. 

Hamilton engravingAbove: an engraving after a painting by Gavin Hamilton entitled Andromache Bewailing the Death of Hector, 1764

Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)

Raeburn was born in the Stockbridge suburb of Edinburgh, he was orphaned at a young age and placed in Heriot’s Hospital before becoming an apprentice to a local goldsmith James Gilliland of Edinburgh. His early work was in portrait miniatures, encouraged by Gilliand who put him in touch with a favourite assistant of Allan Ramsay called David Martin. Now working in oil paint, Raeburn ventured to London and then a tour of Rome to study the Old Masters. He returned to become a prominent portraitist to the British aristocracy, in 1822 he received a knighthood from King George IV during a visit to Scotland.  

Henry raeburnAbove: a selection of portraits by Henry Raeburn

David Wilkie (1785-1841)

Wilkie’s work features historic subjects, royalty, and scenes from his travels in the middle east. Born in Fife to a Parish minister, his perseverance as a painter saw him rise the ranks to take over from Thomas Lawrence as Principal Painter in Ordinary, serving King William IV and later Queen Victoria. He died en route home from extensive travels in Jerusalem and Alexandria and was buried at sea off the coast of Gibraltar. Turner’s Peace – Burial at Sea commemorates his untimely death. 

WilkieAbove: a detail from The Highland Family by David Wilkie, 1824

Charlotte Nasmyth (1804-1884)

Born in St. Andrews, Charlotte Nasmyth was the daughter of Alexander Nasmyth, a prominent portrait and landscape artist who had studied under Allan Ramsay. Her five sisters also became artists, but Charlotte stands out as working with ‘greater freedom and panache’ than her siblings. Her romantic landscapes can be found in the Scottish National Gallery and British Museum.

NasmythAbove: a detail from A View Of Edinburgh by Alexander Nasmyth, 1822

John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961)

Fergusson was born in Leith and one of the prominent members of the Scottish colourist movement. He was influenced whilst studying in Paris by the bright and dynamic use of colour by the impressionists and fauvism. During his time in France, he met artists such as Matisse and Picasso and became part of what was known as the Cafe Society. Along with his friend Samuel Peploe, he painted Parisian scenes and developed his skill and use of colour. The Fergusson Gallery was founded in Perth to commemorate his work. 

FergussonAbove: a detail from Les Eus by John Duncan Fergusson, 1910

The Glasgow Boys & Girls (1880s-1890s)

A collection of artists from Glasgow produced bright and bold works of art throughout the late 19th century. An economic boom in Glasgow around this time had resulted in popular demand for the art nouveau movement in architecture, interiors and paintings. Their influences include the Celtic revival, Japonisme and the arts and crafts movement.

There are many artists from the Glasgow School that produced important pieces of modern art, but the most prominent were known as The Four:

  • Margaret MacDonald (1864-1933) a painter and glass artist
  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) an architect
  • Frances MacDonald (1873-1921) an artist and designer
  • Herbert MacNair (1868-1955) an artist and designer
Glasgow boysAbove: a detail from The Balcony, Yokohama by one of the Glasgow boys Edward Atkinson Hornel, 1894

Mary Cameron (1865-1921)

Mary Cameron was a renowned artist born in Portobello, Edinburgh. Winning prizes in art from the age of 17, Cameron also took classes at Edinburgh Veterinary College to further her understanding of animal anatomy, especially horses. Around 1900, she travelled to Spain to study the works of Diego Velázquez, where she composed numerous Spanish scenes with great skill. She held four solo exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and Paris to much acclaim.

Mary CameronAbove: a photograph of Mary Cameron in her studio

How can we help?

If you have an artwork by one of the famous Scottish artists mentioned in this article or would like to know more about art conservation, please speak to our helpful team. Please email us via [email protected] or call 0207 112 7576

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