George Watson (painter)

Last updated

Self portraint of George Watson Scottish painter George Watson painter.jpg
Self portraint of George Watson Scottish painter
George Watson's grave, St Cuthberts, Edinburgh George Watson's grave, St Cuthberts, Edinburgh.JPG
George Watson's grave, St Cuthberts, Edinburgh

George Watson PPRSA (1767 – 24 August 1837) was a Scottish portrait painter and the first president of the Royal Scottish Academy.


Life and work

Watson was born at his father's estate, Overmains, Berwickshire, in 1767, the son of Frances Veitch of Elliott. John Watson. He received his early education in Edinburgh, and got some instruction in painting from Alexander Nasmyth but when 18 years of age he went to London with an introduction to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who received him as a pupil. After two years spent in Reynolds' studio, he returned to Edinburgh, and established himself as a portrait-painter.

In 1808 he was associated with other painters in starting a society of artists, which, however, only lasted a few years. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, and about 1815 was invited to London to paint a number of portraits, including those of the dean of Canterbury and Benjamin West. In 1820, in spite of much opposition from the Royal Institution, the Scottish Academy was founded, and Watson, who had been president of the previous society, was elected to the same office in the new one, the ultimate success of which was largely due to his tact and ability. He continued as president until his death, the academy receiving its royal charter a few months afterwards.

John James Ruskin - father of John Ruskin (1802) John James Ruskin.jpg
John James Ruskin - father of John Ruskin (1802)

It is said that he long maintained an honourable rivalry with Henry Raeburn but, although his grasp of character was firm, his executive power considerable, and his work belonged to a fine convention, his portraiture lacks the qualities which give that of his fellow artist enduring interest. He is represented in the National Gallery of Scotland by portraits of two brother artists, Benjamin West and two of Archibald Skirving; [1] and in the Scottish Portrait Gallery by a number of portraits, including one of himself, and one of William Smellie, which some consider his best piece of work.

Shortly after his return from his first visit to London he married Rebecca Smellie, daughter of William Smellie, printer and naturalist, who, with five children, survived him.

Watson died at home, 10 Forth Street in Edinburgh on 24 August 1837. [2] [3] He is buried on the southern wall of St Cuthberts Churchyard in Edinburgh. His nephew John Kippen Watson FRSE lies with him. [4]


His son, William Smellie Watson RSA (1796–1874), was born in Edinburgh, and, like his father and his cousin, Sir John Watson Gordon became a portrait-painter. He was a pupil of his father's, studied at the Trustees' Academy, and from 1815, for five years, in the schools of the London Royal Academy, and worked for a year with Sir David Wilkie while that artist was painting "The Penny Wedding" and other pictures. Returning to Edinburgh, he made a good connection as a portrait-painter, became one of the founders of the Scottish Academy, and for nearly 50years exhibited with unfailing regularity. He solely confined himself to portraiture.

He died in Edinburgh on 6 November 1874. He is buried with his parents in St Cuthberts.

He was a devoted student of natural history, particularly ornithology, and formed an extensive collection of specimens, which he bequeathed the University of Edinburgh. Watson has over 35 paintings in public collections in Britain. [1]

Related Research Articles

Joshua Reynolds 18th-century English painter, specialising in portraits

Sir Joshua Reynolds was an English painter, specialising in portraits. John Russell said he was one of the major European painters of the 18th century. He promoted the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was knighted by George III in 1769.

Thomas Lawrence English portrait painter and the second president of the Royal Academy

Sir Thomas Lawrence was a leading English portrait painter and the fourth president of the Royal Academy.

David Wilkie (artist) Scottish painter

Sir David Wilkie was a Scottish painter, especially known for his genre scenes. He painted successfully in a wide variety of genres, including historical scenes, portraits, including formal royal ones, and scenes from his travels to Europe and the Middle East. His main base was in London, but he died and was buried at sea, off Gibraltar, returning from his first trip to the Middle East. He was sometimes known as the "people's painter".

Henry Raeburn Scottish portrait painter

Sir Henry Raeburn was a British portrait painter, He served as Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland.

Allan Ramsay (artist) 18th-century Scottish portrait painter

Allan Ramsay was a prominent Scottish portrait-painter.

Alexander Nasmyth British artist based in Edinburgh

Alexander Nasmyth was a Scottish portrait and landscape painter, a pupil of Allan Ramsay.

Art of the United Kingdom visual art in or associated with the United Kingdom since 1707

The Art of the United Kingdom refers to all forms of visual art in or associated with the United Kingdom since the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and encompass English art, Scottish art, Welsh art and Irish art, and forms part of Western art history. During the 18th century Britain began to reclaim the leading place England had played in European art during the Middle Ages, being especially strong in portraiture and landscape art. Increasing British prosperity led to a greatly increased production of both fine art and the decorative arts, the latter often being exported. The Romantic period resulted from very diverse talents, including the painters William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, John Constable and Samuel Palmer. The Victorian period saw a great diversity of art, and a far larger quantity created than before. Much Victorian art is now out of critical favour, with interest concentrated on the Pre-Raphaelites and the innovative movements at the end of the 18th century.

George Richmond (painter) English painter

George Richmond was an English painter and portraitist. In his youth he was a member of The Ancients, a group of followers of William Blake. Later in life he established a career as a portrait painter, which included painting the portraits of the British gentry, nobility and royalty.

John Watson Gordon British painter (1788-1864)

Sir John Watson Gordon was a Scottish portrait painter and president of the Royal Scottish Academy.

William Allan (painter) 19th-century Scottish artist

Sir William Allan was a distinguished Scottish historical painter known for his scenes of Russian life. He became president of the Royal Scottish Academy and was made a Royal Academician.

James Guthrie (artist) British artist

Sir James Guthrie was a Scottish painter, best known in his own lifetime for his portraiture, although today more generally regarded as a painter of Scottish Realism.

Charles Sims (painter) British artist

Charles Henry Sims was a British painter of portraits, landscapes, and decorative paintings. Apart from his mainstream reputation, he is also considered an exponent of Outsider Art, as an artist whose work developed an idiosyncratic style through psychiatric disorder.

Robert Scott Lauder British artist

Robert Scott Lauder was a Scottish artist who described himself as a "historical painter". He was one of the original members of the Royal Scottish Academy.

David Martin (artist) British painter and engraver

David Martin was a Scottish painter and engraver. Born in Fife, he studied in Italy and England, before gaining a reputation as a portrait painter.

Arnold Bronckorst Dutch painter

Arnold Bronckhorst, or Bronckorst or Van Bronckhorst was a Dutch painter who was court painter to James VI of Scotland.

Principal Painter in Ordinary First Court painter in Great Britain

The title of Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King or Queen of England or, later, Great Britain, was awarded to a number of artists, nearly all mainly portraitists. It was different from the role of Serjeant Painter, and similar to the earlier role of "King's Painter". Other painters, for example Nicholas Hilliard had similar roles with different titles. "Principal Painter in Ordinary", first used for Sir Anthony Van Dyck, became settled as the usual title with John Riley in 1689.

William Home Lizars was a Scottish painter and engraver.

Sir (Herbert) James Gunn was a Scottish landscape and portrait painter.

Scottish art in the nineteenth century

Scottish art in the nineteenth century is the body of visual art made in Scotland, by Scots, or about Scottish subjects. This period saw the increasing professionalisation and organisation of art in Scotland. Major institutions founded in this period included the Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland, the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, the National Gallery of Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Glasgow Institute. Art education in Edinburgh focused on the Trustees Drawing Academy of Edinburgh. Glasgow School of Art was founded in 1845 and Grays School of Art in Aberdeen in 1885.

Portrait painting in Scotland

Portrait painting in Scotland includes all forms of painted portraiture in Scotland, from its beginnings in the early sixteenth century until the present day. The origins of the tradition of portrait painting in Scotland are in the Renaissance, particularly through contacts with the Netherlands. The first portrait of a named person that survives is that of Archbishop William Elphinstone, probably painted by a Scottish artist using Flemish techniques around 1505. Around the same period Scottish monarchs turned to the recording of royal likenesses in panel portraits, painted in oils on wood. The tradition of royal portrait painting in Scotland was probably disrupted by the minorities and regencies it underwent for much of the sixteenth century. It began to flourish after the Reformation, with paintings of royal figures and nobles by Netherlands artists Hans Eworth, Arnold Bronckorst and Adrian Vanson. A specific type of Scottish picture from this era was the "vendetta portrait", designed to keep alive the memory of an atrocity. The Union of Crowns in 1603 removed a major source of artistic patronage in Scotland as James VI and his court moved to London. The result has been seen as a shift "from crown to castle", as the nobility and local lairds became the major sources of patronage.


  1. 1 2 Paintings by or after George Watson at the Art UK site
  2. Edinburgh Post Office directory 1837
  3. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol III
  4. Information from the grave of George Watson

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Watson, George (1767-1837)". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.