John   Milne   Donald

(Nairn, 1819 - 1866)

Although undistinguished by Academic honours, this artist had very considerable influence in fostering the art of landscape-painting, more especially in the west of Scotland. Like Docharty, he wrought almost exclusively in oil, and his pictures are characterised by great truth to nature, fine colour, and beauty of execution. A keen observer, he probably reverenced nature too deeply to use any liberties, and hence his works may be said to yield that amount of pleasure which accords with the appreciation of nature possessed by the spectator. His best works are those of a smaller size; he saw too keenly to paint to be seen at a distance, and he saw too wisely to paint anything but what conveyed the impression without the slavish following of nature. Ideality and impressionism formed no part of his creed, and for him did not exist. He selected from, but never rejected nature, and what he selected he rendered faithfully and lovingly. To take Donald at his best, as an executant he is unapproached by any of his predecessors and by few of his successors.

He was brought early in his youth from Nairn to Glasgow, where he gained some little knowledge of art, and after his twenty-first year spent about four years in London, finally settling in Glasgow, painting panels for wall decorations and contributing to local exhibitions. His works, like those of many other artists, were not appreciated till after his death, and although he had to be satisfied with a comparatively small remuneration for his work, his pictures are now eagerly sought after, more especially by local collectors. He was a frequent contributor to the Edinburgh and Glasgow exhibitions up till his death, which occurred after his mind had given way.

Art in Scotland: Its Origin and Progress, By Robert Brydall, Master of the St. George's Art School of Glasgow, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1889 [MDCCCLXXXIX]

It is never safe to attempt the establishment of too close a sequence in the growth of any phase of art, or to declare this man or that to have been its founder. It is, therefore, with much reserve that, before going on to speak of the Scottish landscape-painters now living ...John Milne Donald, in a fashion, the father of the school. John Milne Donald was a Highlander. His father and mother moved to Glasgow shortly after his birth, and there the boy was educated and taught the beginnings of art. About 1840 he paid a short visit to Paris, after which he settled for a time in London. Here he made the acquaintance of Samuel Rogers, who encouraged him and gave him commissions for two pictures. His stay in London came to an end in 1844, when he established himself in Glasgow. There he died in his forty-seventh year, in 1866. Donald chiefly painted scenes in which the boldness of the Scottish Highlands is combined with the softer beauties of the Lowlands. Many of his pictures consist of tracts of broken ground, with patches of culture and scattered flocks of sheep, and in the distance rugged slopes and mountain sides. His colour, though seldom brilliant, was nearly always delicate and luminous, being in that the reverse of Macculloch's. His landscapes are mostly well composed, though often showing signs of haste. This fault sprang, no doubt, from the want of appreciation their author met with during his lifetime. He sold his pictures for very small prices, and, like many of his less-gifted comrades, was glad to eke out his income by painting panels for the ships built on the Clyde. Many of these were landscapes on glass, and not a few have since been transferred to canvas from the surface on which they were painted, and sold for considerable sums. For Donald was a born painter, and had he lived a generation later might have done much. In character he was reserved, even diffident, and so failed to make the most of such acceptance as he won. So far as I can discover, no picture of his hangs in any public gallery; they exist mostly in small private collections in Glasgow and its neighbourhood.

Scottish painters: a critical study, Walter Armstrong (Sir) Seeley, 1888

He began the study of art at an early age in Glasgow, going to Paris in 1840, and spending some time in the galleries there. He painted in London for four years, two of his pictures being purchased by the poet Rogers. The balance of his professional life was spent in Scotland. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Scottish Academy, and was very successful in his representation of Scottish Highland scenery. Three of his works, "A Highland Stream," "Bowling Bay," and "Loch Goil" were at the Glasgow Fine Art Loan Exhibition in 1878.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works. A Handbook containing Biographical Sketches. By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.