Self-portrait, 1812

Andrew Geddes

(Edinburgh, 5 April 1783 - 5 May 1844, London)

Scotish painter, was born in Edinburgh. After receiving a good education in the high school and in the university of that city, he was for five years in the excise office, in which his father held the post of deputy auditor. After the death of his father, who had opposed his desire to become an artist, he went to London and entered the Royal Academy schools. His first contribution to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy, “St John in the Wilderness,” appeared at Somerset House in 1806, and from that year onwards Geddes was a fairly constant exhibitor of figure-subjects and portraits. His well-known portrait of Wilkie, with whom he was on terms of intimacy, was at the Royal Academy in 1816. He alternated for some years between London and Edinburgh, with some excursions on the Continent, but in 1831 settled in London, and was elected associate of the Royal Academy in 1832; and he died in London of consumption in 1844. A very able executant, a good colourist, and a close student of character, he made his chief success as a portrait-painter, but he produced occasional figure subjects and landscapes, and executed some admirable copies of the old masters as well. He was also a good etcher. His portrait of his mother, and a portrait study, called “Summer,” are in the National Gallery of Scotland, and his portrait of Sir Walter Scott is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

[The Scottish School of Painting, by William D. McKay, R.S.A. (1906); 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11; Dictionary of National Biography, Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890); Geddes, Adela Plimer. Memoir of the Late Andrew Geddes, Esq., A.R.A. (1844).]


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The Artist's Mother 1822



ANDREW GEDDES (1783–1844), Scottish portrait painter, was born at Edinburgh. He was the son of David Geddes, an auditor of excise, and was educated at the High School and University of Edinburgh. He showed an early predilection for the fine arts, but did not commence his career as a professed artist until after the death of his father. He entered the schools of the Royal Academy in 1807, about the same time that Haydon, Jackson, and Wilkie were students there, and after some years' study he settled down to practise in Edinburgh. In 1814 he took a residence in London for his artistic pursuits, and continued annually to spend some months there. About thiis time he painted the portraits of Sir David Wilkie, Henry Mackenzie (the author of The Man of Feeling), Dr. Chalmers, and other persons of note. The approbation which these portraits elicited induced him to put down his name as a candidate for tlhe honours of the Royal Academy; but he was unsuccessful, and the Associateship was not awarded him till 1832. In 1818 he painted a picture of 'The Discovery of the Regalia in Scotland,' in which he introduced the portraits of several of the most distinguished men of his native city, among them Sir Walter Scott. In 1828 he visited the continent, and passed some time in Italy, Germany, and France. On his return in 1831 he painted an altar-piece for the church of Saint James Garlickhythe, and a picture of 'Christ and the Woman of Samaria.' He visited Holland in 1839, and he was skilful as an etcher in the manner of Rembrandt. He died in London in 1844. His principal works are:
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; Summer, Portrait of the Artist's Mother, His own Portrait, Hagar.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery; Sir Walter Scott.
Tate Gallery; Dull Reading ca.1826 (Portraits of Terry and his Wife), Presented by Robert Vernon 1847, (Not on display).
Victoria and Albert Museum; A Man Smoking, Given by John Sheepshanks 1857, (in storage).
Victoria and Albert Museum; Copy of Giorgione's Triple Portrait 1830, (A Study from Giorgione, after painter (artist), Given by John Sheepshanks 1857, (in storage).

Victoria and Albert Museum

Tate Gallery


[Art in Scotland: its Origin and Progress, by Robert Brydall (1889); Bryan's dictionary of painters and engravers, 1903.]



GEDDES, ANDREW (1783-1844), painter, son of David Geddes, deputy-auditor of excise, Edinburgh, was born on 5 April 1783 (see Laing, Etchings). He received a classical education at the high school and the university of Edinburgh, and in 1803 became a clerk in the excise office. His father was a connoisseur and collector of prints; the son was so strongly drawn to art that he spent his leisure in sketching and copying engravings, and, when he was free to choose his own way of life, he resolved -- fortified by the advice of John Clerk, afterwards Lord Eldin -- to proceed to London and study as a painter. In 1806 he began to attend the schools of the Royal Academy, and in the same year exhibited there his first picture, ‘St. John in the Wilderness.’ In 1810 he opened a studio in York Place, Edinburgh, and was soon in good practice as a portrait-painter. Four years later he visited Paris in company with Burnet the engraver, and evident traces of the Venetian masters whom he studied in the Louvre appear in the ‘Ascension,’ an altar-piece executed after his return for Saint James Garlickhythe. ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria,’ shown in the Academy of 1841, and a cartoon of ‘Samson and Delilah’ were later efforts in the direction of religious art. His next important picture was the ‘Discovery of the Regalia of Scotland in 1818,’ with full-length portraits of all the commissioners appointed for its search, a picture afterwards ruined by neglect, only the portrait heads which it included being preserved. It was exhibited in the Academy in 1821, and formed the chief feature in the collected exhibition of seventy of his works which he brought together in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, in December of the same year, and which comprised portraits, sketches from the old masters made in Paris, and ‘pasticcio compositions’ in the manner of Rembrandt, Watteau, etc. Before 1823 he had finally established himself in London, for in that year he declined the suggestion of his artist friends in the north that he should return to Edinburgh with the view of filling the place of leading Scottish portrait-painter, vacant by Raeburn's death. In 1832 he was elected A.R.A. He married in 1827, Adela, youngest daughter of Nathaniel Plymer, miniature-painter; and in the following year started for the continent, where he resided, mainly in Italy, till the beginning of 1831, copying in the galleries, and at Rome painting portraits of Cardinal Weld, the Ladies M. and G. Talbot (afterwards Princesses of Doria and Borghese), J. Gibson, R.A., and James Morier. In 1839 he visited Holland for purposes of artistic study.

Geddes began the systematic practice of art comparatively late, and his works occasionally show defects of form; but he improved himself by a study of the great masters, and from the first his sense of colour and tone was unerring. He is represented in the National Gallery of Scotland by five works. The ‘Portrait of the Artist's Mother’ is entitled to rank as the painter's masterpiece. It forms the subject of one of his finest etchings. The portrait of George Sanders, miniature-painter, also in the Scottish national collection, is a good example of his cabinet-sized full-lengths, in which both the figures and the interiors in which they are placed are rendered with the most scrupulous finish of crisp detail. Among his works of this class ‘David Wilkie, R.A.,’ and ‘Patrick Brydone, F.R.S.,’ have been admirably mezzotinted by W. Ward, who also reproduced in the same method the life-sized portraits of the ‘Very Rev. George H. Baird, D.D.,’ the ‘Rev. Thomas Chalmers, D.D.,’ and ‘William Anderson.’ The list of Geddes's engraved works given by Laing may be supplemented by a few minor portrait book-plates and by the important mezzotint of ‘Sir John Marjoribanks, bart., of Lees,’ executed in 1835 by C. Turner. His copies from the old masters were highly valued, and have brought large prices. One of them, a full-sized transcript of Titian's ‘Sacred and Profane Love,’ hangs in the schools of the Royal Academy, London.

As an etcher Geddes ranks even higher than as a painter; his plates may be regarded as among the very earliest examples in modern English art of the brilliancy, concentration, and spirited selection of line proper to a ‘painter's-etching.’ His dry-points and etchings include portraits, landscapes, and a few copies from the old masters. Ten of them he himself published in 1826; forty-three are catalogued in Laing's volume, and there printed from the original coppers (much worn), or given in reproduction in cases when these no longer existed. Some six other uncatalogued subjects are to be found in the British Museum and in private collections.
He died of consumption in Berners Street, London, on 5 May 1844.

There exist three oil-portraits of Geddes painted by himself:
1. Life-sized bust, in seventeenth-century costume, in the possession of Andrew Geddes Scott, Edinburgh.
2. Life-sized, to waist, unfinished (about 1826), in National Gallery of Scotland.
3. Cabinet-sized, to waist, in seventeenth-century costume (1812), in Scottish National Portrait Gallery (engraved, by J. Le Coute, in Laing's volume).

[David Laing's Etchings by Wilkie and Geddes, Edinburgh, 1875; Memoir by his Widow, London, 1844; Catalogue of his Exhibition in Edinburgh, 1821; Catalogues of National Gallery of Scotland and of Scottish National Portrait Gallery; P. G. Hamerton's Etchings and Etchers, 1880; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21, by John Miller Gray.]



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Geddes' Sketch
The Discovery of the Regalia of Scotland (1821), Regalia of Scotland by Edward Goodall, after Geddes


In order to satisfy the Prince Regent that the Regalia were authentic, the Commissioners were required to submit a report of their proceedings, accompanied by scale drawings of the components of the Regalia. Andrew Geddes was one of four artists chosen and produced an ink drawing of the Sceptre and an oil sketch of the Crown. Amidst continuing public excitement, Geddes prepared a massive group-portrait entitled 'The Discovery of the Regalia of Scotland'. It was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1821 but had been in progress since 1818 when Geddes had prepared a portrait of Scott as a study. The finished painting found no buyer, owing probably to its sheer size, which, according to David Laing, would have been 'sufficient to fill the whole side of an ordinary sized apartment'. The canvas remained in Geddes's mother's house in Edinburgh until her death in 1828. The family then moved to a smaller house and had the painting removed from the frame and rolled up. It was subsequently so badly neglected that it had to be destroyed. According to Geddes's widow (who had no part in the neglect), some of the heads were cut out and sold as discreet portraits. None, however, has been traced. (The correspondence between Adela Plimer Geddes and David Laing is held in Edinburgh University Library's Laing Collection.)

From left to right: the Sceptre of James V, the Scottish Crown, and the Sword of State. Geddes was asked to paint the Regalia for use as a frontispiece to the 9th Part of the Provincial Antiquities in 1824, when it became apparent that an earlier drawing by William Home Lizars, used as the cover illustration for Parts 3-4 (1819-20), contained inaccuracies. The oil painting on which the engraving is based is held at Abbotsford.

Geddes was among the artists chosen to make a record of the newly rediscovered Regalia of Scotland. Having completed two drawings for the official report into the rediscovery, Geddes began work on a massive group-portrait depicting the moment at which the twenty-four Royal Commissioners opened the chest containing the Regalia. Among his studies for this composition was a portrait of Scott (1818). The Discovery of the Regalia of Scotland was finally displayed at the Royal Academy in 1821 and subsequently formed the centrepiece of a collected exhibition of his work in Edinburgh in the same year. The piece, however, found no buyer and subsequently perished through neglect.

Description of the Regalia of Scotland by Sir Walter Scot, Baronet., 1819


walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk



Andrew Geddes was a native of Edinburgh, and the only son in a family of six children. His father David was an auditor of the Excise, who, besides possessing great taste, a few fine pictures, and a collection of books and prints, was in constant coiiespondence with Thomas Phillip, a leading printseller of the time, and on terms of friendship with Colin Macfarquhar, whose ample means enabled him to indulge in the collecting of engravings, among which were numerous specimens of Rembrandt. His father being desirous that Andrew should become a good classical scholar, placed him at the university after completing his ordinary education, where some years were devoted to Greek and Latin, a period of time which the artist always spoke of as being lost. On leaving the university, he began life in the same office with his father, where he remained nearly five years, during which all his leisure hours were given to copying pictures lent him by John Clerk (Lord Eldin), and at which time he made a reproduction from a copy of Correggio's Madonna del Coniglio. After his father's death in 1869, he resolved to become an artist, having previously visited London during a holiday, in the course of which he saw all the collections there, under the guidance of his father's friend Antony Stewart the miniature-painter. When about the age of twenty, he returned to London and entered the school of the Royal Academy, where Haydon and Jackson were then studying, and where he first sat down beside his countryman Wilkie, with whom he contracted an enduring fiiendship. After some study there (according to his wife a few years, but probably not more than one), he returned to Edinburgh about 1810, when he began to practise professionally, chiefly at portraits. Between this date and 1814 he painted, among others. Lord Hermand, the Earl of Buchan, Sir John and Lady Dick of Prestonfield, Sir Douglas of Orchardton, Henry Mackenzie, and Dr. Chalmers. His studio was at 47 York Place, and latterly he had been making occasional visits to London during the season of the picture sales, hopng on his own account and that of others. He also at this time began the practice of etching. He now made an excursion to Paris by way of Flanders, in company with John Burnet and other two friends, making some sketches in the Louvre during his stay. On returning to London, he entered into an arrangement with Burnet for painting an altar-piece of the Ascension for the church of St. James, Garlick Hill, of which church Burnet's brother was curate. This picture, like his later Christ and the Woman of Samaria, was done more for fame than for remuneration, and was evidently painted under the influence of the great Assumption by Titian at Venice. He had then apartments in Conduit Street, but divided his time between London and Edinburgh, where he still retained a considerable practice. This necessitated occasional journeys between the two capitals, one of which was made in company with Sir D. Wilkie, and William Collins the artist, in 1822, when the latter got married to Miss Geddes. Of this journey, one of Wilkie's letters contains a characteristic notice: "We got through our journey famously, and were less fatigued than we expected. The only subject of regret was, that Geddes's snuff-box was done by the time we got to Berwick. I was not asked to join, but the box passed between Geddes and Collins, and from Collins to Geddes, inces-santly. You will imagine I did not feel much for their misfortune."

In the Royal Academy of London, so early as 1806, when only in his seventeenth year, he exhibited St. John in the Wilderness. This was followed in 1808 by a Girl (candle-light), and numerous portraits in 1813, 1815, and 1816, in the latter of which he showed the portrait of his friend Wilkie. In 1821 his well-known picture of the Discovery of the Regalia was exhibited in London, and also in Edinburgh. This work, which is now in the Scottish National Gallery, includes, among the portraits of other celebrities, that of Sir Walter Scott, the sketch for the head of which was purchased by the art amateur Sir James Stuart of Allanbank, and is now in the Scottish Portrait Gallery. His two large pictures of the family of the Duke of Rutland were finished in 1827, and about the same date he did a half-length of the Duke of York, being the last for which his Royal Highness gave sittings, and which has been engraved by Hodgetts. He was married in the following year; soon after which, in company with his wife, he set out on a long-contemplated tour on the Continent, in the course of which he visited Paris, Lyons, Florence, and Rome, picking up his friend Andrew Wilson and his family at Genoa. During this visit he copied Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, in the Borghese Palace, and Veronese's St. John Preaching and Queen Helena, in addition to portraits of Gibson and the Roman historical painter Camuccini. He also renewed his acquaintance with Turner at Subiaco, where that great artist painted his last exhibited picture at the Royal Academy, the Ruins of Nero's Tomb and the Mountains of Carrara. The following winter (1829) he lived in the house which had been occupied by Nicolo Poussin on the Monte Pinciano, and painted portraits of Cardinal Weld, the Ladies Mary and Gwendoline Talbot (afterwards the Princesses Doria and Borghese), and James Morier, the author of 'Haji Baba.' On account of his health he left for Naples, and after visiting Sorrento, Capri, and Salerno, returned homewards in the autumn, lingering long at Venice and Siena, where he made several copies, including Titian's Flora. While waiting on the preparation of the house which he had leased in Bemers Street in 1831, he copied Lord Egerton's Titian's Diana and Acteon, which copy was afterwards sold at Christie's for 350 guineas. His next important work was Christ and the Woman of Samaria, after which he made a short visit to Holland. He expired in the arms of his wife on the 5th of May 1844, the anniversary of their marriage, having suffered for many years from consumption.

Geddes was possessed of an intimate knowledge of old Italian art, as an authority on which he was frequently consulted. Although he painted the few subject-pictures mentioned and one or two others, as well as an occasional landscape, he is chiefly known as a portrait-painter. His small full-lengths are fine examples of broad painting, combined with high finish, making the spectator feel that the scale in which a work of art is executed is of no consequence. His colour, always fine, changed in his latter period to a warmer hue, probably owing to a more intimate acquaintance with the works of the old masters. The head of his mother is extremely quaint and characteristic. That of himself suggests something of the style of Sir Thomas Lawrence. The small full-length of George Sanders the artist is a fine specimen of the beautiful colour and breadth of treatment with which he imbued this class of his work. His Summer, a bright-faced girl in a straw hat, is glowing with the colour of Rubens; and his Hagar, rather browned, evinces the influence of the old masters in its tone and style of drawing. His small picture entitled Dry Reading, in the Vernon collection of the National Gallery in London, is said to be the portraits of George Terry and his wife, the daughter of Alexander Nasmyth the landscape-pamter. At the sale of the Gibson-Craig collection in Edinburgh in 1887, his portrait of John Clerk, Lord Eldin, was sold for £27, 5s., and two sisters of the same for £32 11s. each. Among his engraved works may be mentioned Lord Camperdown and Dr. Chalmers, in mezzotint by Ward; a small whole-length of "Man of Feeling" Mackenzie, in line' by Rhodes; Mr Oswald of Auchencruive, by Hodgetts; and the Discovery of the Regalia, besides the portrait of the Duke of York.

His last picture, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843, a large allegory of Spring, could hardly be expected to be a success, as he was then suffering acutely from the insidious disease which terminated fatally in the following year. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1832, for which he had entered his name unsuccessfully many years previous, when he felt the disappointment so keenly that he did not get over his non-election for long after. His own portrait is preserved in the Scottish Museum of Antiquities, to which it was bequeathed by Dr. David Laing, and was engraved by the late Mr Leconte for Etchings by Wilkie and Geddes.

As an etcher of some forty small plates, Geddes occupies a remarkable position, being perhaps, with the exception of Wilkie, the most successful practitioner of that art in Britain in his time, and even for long after. With a thorough knowledge and appreciation of the value of the dry point, he combined a free and graceful use of the needle. Among the specimens which he has left are, a delicate and rich head of Alexander Nasmyth, a head of his mother, a charming little girl with a pear, the head of an Edinburgh auctioneer, and a luminous one entitled Give the Devil his Due. His well-known landscape plate, representing a broad tree overshadowing a cottage with a wooden gate and little bridge in the foreground, is exceedingly rich and brilliant. The first state bears no signature and has the sky marred by an experiment seemingly made with sand-paper. In point of genuine etching free of burr, it is questionable if these have been surpassed by any of the recent professors of this now popular branch of art.

Art in Scotland, Its Origin and Progreess, By Robert Brydall, Master of the St. George's Art School of Glasgow, William Blackwood and Son, Edinburgh and London, 1889 [MDCCCLXXXIX]; Life of William Collins, R.A., by Wilkie Collins, 1848.


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