Robert   Gavin

(Leith, 1827 - 5 October 1883, Newhaven)

By birth a Scotchman. He was educated at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh, practicing his profession in that city for some years, his studio being at Leith. He has devoted himself chiefly to Moorish figures, making frequent and prolonged visits to Morocco and the East. He is an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. Among his later works are, "The Fondah," "Children of the Sun," and "Hunted Down," at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1878.

"If Robert Gavin would always depict negro youth in form so attractive as his head of 'A Moorish Girl' [R. A., 1874], whose snowy drapery admirably contrasts with the raven hair and flashing eyes, we should not restrict our notion of beauty to the complexion of the lily and rose. His 'Horse-Shoeing at Tangiers,' too, is a scene strongly grasped and well worthy of examination." -- Art Journal, April, 1874.

[Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works. Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.]

Scottish landscape and genre painter, was born at Leith in 1827. He early manifested a taste for art, and when about twenty-one years of age he entered the Edinburgh School of Design. His earlier works partook much of the style of Sir George Harvey, and a few of them, as, for instance, his 'Reaping Girl' and 'Phoebe Mayflower,' were reproduced in chromo-lithography, and became very popular. Soon after 1870 he made a tour in America, and afterwards went to the continent; he then settled for a time at Tangier, where he painted numerous Moorish subjects. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1855, and an Academician in 1879, when he painted as his diploma picture 'A Moorish Maiden's First Love.' He died at Newhaven, near Edinburgh, in 1883.

[Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1903.]

Second son of Peter Gavin, a merchant at Leith, where he was born in 1827. He was educated at the Leith High School, and when about twenty-one years of age he entered the School of Design in Edinburgh, and studied under Thomas Duncan. He painted a large number of familiar and rustic subjects, mainly landscape compositions with figures of children, which became very popular. Some of these, such as the ‘Reaping Girl’ and ‘Phœbe Mayflower,’ were reproduced in chromo-lithography. He was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1854. About three years later he appears to have become dissatisfied with his progress as an artist, and entered into partnership with a wine merchant; but after about a year he resumed the practice of his art. He was a regular contributor to the exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy, and between 1855 and 1871 exhibited a few pictures at the Royal Academy in London. In 1868 he made a tour in America, and painted several characteristic phases of negro life. Soon after his return home he went to Morocco, and resided for some years at Tangier, where he painted numerous Moorish pictures. In 1879 he became an academician, and presented as his diploma work ‘The Moorish Maiden's First Love,’ a damsel caressing a beautiful white horse; this picture is now in the National Gallery of Scotland. He returned to Scotland in 1880, and continued to paint subjects of Moorish life and manners until his death, which took place at his residence, Cherry Bank, Newhaven, near Edinburgh, on 5 Oct. 1883. He died unmarried, and was buried in Warriston cemetery.

[Scotsman, 8-Oct-1883; Edinburgh Courant, 8-Oct-1883; Royal Scottish Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1850-1882, Annual Report, 1883; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1855-1871; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21, Gavin, Robert, by Robert Edmund Graves]


One of the Scottish artists who had a great gift of colour was Robert Gavin, a native of Leith, who studied art after his twentieth year, at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, under Thomas Duncan. An enthusiastic art-student, he soon began to produce excellent pictures of children, with landscape backgrounds, very rich in colour, and free and accurate in drawing, one of which, the 'Coming Storm', was chromo-lithographed for the Art Union of Glasgow. He also at this time painted some landscapes. Some years after his election as Associate of the Scottish Academy in 1855, he visited America, and broke new ground in the portrayal of incidents in negro life. He afterwards painted a few portraits, and further distinguished himself by such works as 'Christabel', 'Phoebe Mayflower' and 'Joceline Joliffe' (1866); 'Going to School', the 'Bathing-Pool', the 'Knitter' (1867); Negro subjects, etc. (1871), followed by similar works in succeeding years. About 1875 he went to the north of Africa, remaining some time at Tangiers, where the study of the natives afforded him an opportunity of indulging in his favourite scheme of colour, which was rich and glowing, more like that of a native of the peninsula than of one nurtured under the stern Scottish climate. Eight Moorish subjects sent from Tangiers to the Scottish Academy in 1874 were the first results of this study, the most important of which were 'Horse-shoeing at Tangiers', and a 'Moorish Girl of Tetuan'. The following year his three exhibits consisted of 'Othello and Desdemona', 'Moorish Women at a Well' (a fine work), and 'Naaman the Leper and the little Jewish Maid'. He remained at Tangiers till 1878, sending home numerous works similar to those mentioned, and was promoted to the rank of full Academician in 1879. He was a regular and prolific contributor to the Edinburgh exhibitions, but rarely to those in London.

Never of very robust health, his constitution was very seriously impaired by his prolonged stay at Tangiers, and he died at his residence in Newhaven about four years after his return home, in his fifty-sixth year. His diploma picture in the Scottish National Gallery, the 'Moorish Maiden's First Love', is a good example of his style.

[Art in Scotland, Its Origin and Progress, by Robert Brydall, 1889]