James Archer, RSA
(Edinburgh, 10 June 1823 - 3 September 1904, Haslemere, Surrey)
Archer was born in Edinburgh, the son of Andrew Archer, a dentist, and Ann Cunningham, and educated at the Royal High School. He studied at the Trustee's Academy in Edinburgh under Sir William Allan and Thomas Duncan (painter). In 1840 he was accepted as a student at the Royal Scottish Academy and first exhibited there in 1842, with the biblical painting, "The Child St. John in the Wilderness". He became an associate of the academy in 1850, and in 1858, an Academician (RSA)
Archer worked in oils, pencil and chalk, and at the beginning of his career specialised in portraiture, his best-known work includes children and people in costume as its subjects - in fact, he was the first Victorian painter to do children's portraits in period costume. In 1849, he exhibited his first historical picture 'The Last Supper' at the Royal Scottish Academy. His work after that mostly consisted of scenes taken from literature or legends that were popular at the time, such as Shakespeare and King Arthur. In about 1859, he began to paint a series of Arthurian subjects, including 'La Morte d'Arthur' and 'Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere'. In 1864, he moved to London.
In the 1880s, Archer travelled to the USA, where he painted Andrew Carnegie's portrait, and to India, where he painted landscapes and people in costume. Archer died in 1904 in Haslemere in Surrey, survived by his son and three daughters from his marriage to Jane Clerk.
JAMES ARCHER, (1823-1904)
Painter, born in Edinburgh on 10 June 1823, was eldest child of Andrew Archer, dentist in Edinburgh, who married Ann Cunningham Gregory, and by her had two sons and two daughters. The younger son, Andrew, was the author of a history of Canada (1876), while the youngest child, Georgina, was the founder of the Victoria Institute, Berlin, and tutoress of the German Emperor William II, Prince Henry, and Princess Charlotte of Prussia. After education at Edinburgh High School, James studied art at the Trustees' Academy, while Sir William Allan [q. v.] was at its head, with Thomas Duncan [q. v.] as his assistant. Archer's generation thus immediately preceded that which studied under Scott Lauder [q. v.], although he outlived and outworked many of Lauder's pupils. He was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1850, and he became a full member in 1858. The life-class in that year passed from the Trustees' School to the control of the Scottish Academy, and (Sir) Joseph Noel Paton [q. v. Suppl. II], James Drummond [q. v.], and Archer were appointed visitors. Their report on the conduct of the life-class insisted on drawing as opposed to colour in the training, a recommendation which Lauder appears to have regarded as a reflection on his own methods. While resident in Edinburgh, Archer showed his versatility in the many pictures which he exhibited at the Scottish Academy; these included:
In these years he also painted many portraits in oils, and until his migration to London, had a large practice in portraiture in chalks; among his sitters were Professor Aytoun and Alexander Smith.
In 1862-1863, Archer gave up his Edinburgh studio, 2 York Place, and removed to London, He resigned at the time his lieutenancy in the artists' company of the city of Edinburgh artillery volunteers, in which, under the captaincy of Sir Noel Paton, with John Faed as first lieutenant, was enrolled every artist of note in Edinburgh at that time. He was also a member of the Smashers Sketching Club, which he helped to revive in London later under the name of the Auld Lang Syne Sketching Club.
In London, settling first at 21 Phillimore Gardens, and after 1882, at 7 Cromwell Place, he diligently contributed to the Royal Academy, to which he had sent pictures since 1850, and where he continued to exhibit until 1900, missing one year only during the half-century. He had some difficulty in disentangling himself from the Arthurian legend, but was most successful with costume pictures and portraits of children, such as:
A long series of portraits included several painted during prolonged visits between 1884 and 1887, both to the United States and to India
During his last years he lived at Shian, Haslemere, where he died on 3 September 1904; he was buried at Hasiernere. Archer married, in 1853, Jane Clark, daughter of James Lawson, W.S., Edinburgh; a son and three daughters survived him. Archer's work was always refined, and exhibited his interest in literature and a certain sympathy with the Pre-Raphaelites; a lack of force may be attributed to what his friend Professor Blackie described as 'his thoughtful, evangelico-artistic mildness' (Letters of John Stuart Blackie to his Wife). Unluckily for his reputation he continued to work after his powers failed. He was at the time of his death the oldest member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and had been for ten years on its retired list. A portrait painted by himself at an early age is in the possession of the widow of Henry Gregory Smith, Edinburgh.
[Chambers' Journal, January 1906; Life of Pettie, Hardie; The Times, 6 September 1904; Scotsman, 8 September 1904; Graves's Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905; Catalogue Royal Scottish Academy; Dictionary of national biography, by David Storrar Meldrum, D. S. M. Volume: 2, Pt.1, 1912 supplement, Sir Sidney Lee, ed.; Journal Royal Institute of British Architects, (1909-1910); The Times, 17 May 1910.]
View painter's art: James Archer, RSA (1823-1904)