Sir George Frederick Harvey F.R.S.E., R.S.A.

(St. Ninians, Stirlingshire, 1 February 1806 - 22 January 1876, 21 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh, 22 January 1876)


Born at St. Ninians, Stirlingshire. Shortly after his birth his father, a watchmaker, settled in the town of Stirling, and here the boy was apprenticed to a bookseller. At the age of eighteen his devotion to art brought him to Edinburgh, where he studied for about two years in the Trustees' Academy. In 1826 he exhibited his first picture of a ‘Village School’ in the Edinburgh Institution, and in the same year he became one of the original associates of the Scottish Academy, to whose first exhibition in 1827, he contributed seven works. He now devoted himself to figure pictures, of which the subjects were derived from the history and the daily life of the Scottish nation, characterised by homely truth and excellent insight into Scottish character, which have become widely popular through engravings. Among these may be named:
‘Covenanters Preaching’ 1829-1830
‘Covenanters' Baptism’ 1830-1831
‘The Curlers’ 1834-1835
‘A Schule Skailin' ’ 1846 and
‘Quitting the Manse’ 1847-1848
‘Shakespeare before Sir Thomas Lucy’ 1836-1837
‘A Castaway,’ 1839
‘First Reading of the Bible in the Crypt of St. Paul's’ 1839-1840; and
‘Dawn revealing the New World to Columbus’ 1852

In 1829, Harvey became a full member of the Scottish Academy, to whose interests, in its early days of struggle, he devoted himself unweariedly. In 1864, he succeeded Sir John Watson Gordon as president, and received the honour of knighthood, and six years later he published his Notes on the Early History of the Royal Scottish Academy (London, 1870, 8vo), giving curious particulars regarding its foundation and progress, a volume which attained a second edition in 1873. In 1867, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to which he contributed, 21 Dec. 1868, a paper ‘On the Colour of Aërial Blue.’ He died at Edinburgh on 22 Jan. 1876. Three of his works are in the National Gallery of Scotland; his portrait by Robert Herdman, R.S.A., and his bust by John Hutchison, R.S.A., are in the possession of the Royal Scottish Academy.

He produced a few portraits, such as those of Professor John Wilson, 1851, and the Rev. Dr. John Brown, 1856. Though most widely known by his figure-pictures, he ranks even higher as a landscape-painter. In this department of art his execution is singularly spontaneous and unlaboured, and in the expression of the very spirit of border landscape, of the quiet sublimity of great stretches of rounded grassy hills, he proves himself, in works like ‘The Enterkin,’ 1846, without a rival among Scottish painters. His landscapes were, for the most part, the work of his later life. Among the finest of them are:
‘Ferragon’ 1857
‘We Twa hae paidled in the Burn’ 1858
‘Sheap-shearing’ 1859
‘Glen Dhu, Arran’ 1861 and
‘Inverarnan, Loch Lomond’ 1870.

[Harvey's Celebrated Paintings, a Selection from the Work of Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A., with descriptions by the Rev. A. L. Simpson, F.S.A. Scotland; "Recollections of Sir George Harvey" (privately printed, 1888); Transcripts Royal Society of Edinburgh; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25, by John Miller Gray.]



Entered Trustees Academy in 1824, and in 1826, although still a very young man, was one of the organizers and original Associates of the Royal Scottish Academy, of which he was made Academician in 1829, and President in 1867, when he was knighted by the Queen. Many of his works are well known through the medium of engraving. Among these are:
"The Battle of Drumclog" (1836)
"Covenanter's Commission" (1840)
"Highland Funeral" (1844)
"The Curlers"
"Past and Present"
"The Penny Bank"
During the later years of his life he devoted much of his time to landscape-painting, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, London

Havey's paintings were from the first popular in Scotland, while their extreme sobriety gave them a mid effect in English eyes, delaying and limiting his popularity in England But through every obstacle those who look for the qualities see in this painter's pictures manly earnestness, and thoughtfulness, and true poetic feeling, well, if gravely expressed " Mrs. Tytler's Modem Painters.

" 'The Curlers' [R. A., 1873] shows the greatest possible variety of action and attitude which the human frame is capable of assuming in the different poses into which the tactics of the game compel the players to throw themselves. It will be understood that the variety of attitudes would render the drawing very difficult. This, however, Sir George has accomplished with masterly skill." -- Art Journal, June, 1873.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century, Works & Biographical Sketches. Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.



Sir George Harvey, a Scottish historical, genre, and landscape painter, was born at St. Ninian's, Perthshire, in 1806. He was first apprenticed to a bookseller, but soon turned his attention to art, and studied in the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh. On the foimdation of the Royal Scottish Academy he was elected an Associate, and he became an Academician in 1829. He made his greatest reputation by his pictures of the Covenanters, but his subjects of Scottish life gained also great popularity. In his early as well as in his more mature works, landscape held a prominent place, and in his later years he devoted himself to this branch of art. He succeeded Sir John Watson Gordon in 1864, as the President of the Royal Scottish Academy, and was knighted in 1867. He died at Edinburgh in 1876.

[Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876 - Reprinted, 1894, 1899.]



Scottish painter, the son of a watchmaker, was born at St Ninians, near Stirling. Soon after his birth his parents removed to Stirling, where George was apprenticed to a bookseller. His love for art having, however, become very decided, in his eighteenth year he entered the Trustees' Academy at Edinburgh. Here he so distinguished himself that in 1826 he was invited by the Scottish artists, who had resolved to found a Scottish academy, to join it as an associate.

Harvey's first picture, "A Village School," was exhibited in 1826 at the Edinburgh Institution; and from the time of the opening of the Academy in the following year he continued annually to exhibit. His best-known pictures are those depicting historical episodes in religious history from a puritan or evangelical point of view, manifest the same close observation of character, artistic conception and conscientious elaboration of details. In "The Night Mail" and "Dawn Revealing the New World to Columbus" the aspects of nature are, made use of in different ways, but with equal happiness, to lend impressiveness and solemnity to human concerns. He also painted landscapes and portraits.

In 1829, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy; in 1864 he succeeded Sir J. W. Gordon as president; and he was knighted in 1867. He died at 21 Regent Terrace in Edinburgh on 22 January 1876. He is buried in Warriston Cemetery against the east wall.

Sir George Harvey was the author of a paper on the Colour of the Atmosphere, read before the Edinburgh Royal Society, and afterwards published with illustrations in Good Words; and in 1870 he published a small volume entitled Notes of the Early History of the Royal Scottish Academy. Selections from the Works of Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A., described by the Rev. A. L. Simpson, F.S.A. Scot., and photographed by Thomas Annan, appeared at Edinburgh in 1869.

[en.Wikipedia; Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., (1911).]



Quitting the Manse, Sir George Harvey, 1847

This painting is significant as one of the only large Scottish history paintings to commemorate a contemporary religious event. It shows a minister and his family leaving the church house (manse) following the Disruption of 1843, when 450 ministers left their parishes over disputes about the sovereignty of the Church of Scotland. They went on to form the Free Church of Scotland. Harvey put aside the controversial political aspect of the Disruption, and focused on the human problems as the parishioners bid farewell to their much-loved minister and his family. The pose of the minister, hat in hand, reveals his personal loss, despite his belief that his actions are for the greater good. The painting is rarely on display due to bad bitumen damage caused by Harvey’s experiments with varnish.

Bitumen (or asphaltum) is a dark, tarry pigment used as a transparent golden brown varnish in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Unfortunately, it never completely dries. Over time it becomes opaque and deformed like burn blisters, the result of an adverse chemical reaction within the paint itself. This was not immediately apparent and some artists used it extensively in their work to achieve a warm golden glow. The effects of bitumen are completely untreatable with any modern conservation methods, and a good deal of important work has been ruined as a result of its use.

Harvey is best known for his Scottish history painting and contemporary narrative scenes. Many of his subjects, designed to invite an emotional response, appear rather sentimental to modern viewers but were extremely popular when first exhibited. Harvey was a student of Sir William Allan's at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh. He followed Allan's example in his skilled draughtsmanship and detailed preparatory studies for his major compositions. His work also reflects Wilkie's influence. Harvey was a founder member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1826 and went on to become its president in 1864. He was knighted three years later.



Royal Scottish Academy

The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) was formed in Edinburgh in 1826, by Scottish artists who felt alienated by what they perceived as the elitism of the Royal Institution and its management of contemporary art exhibitions. In 1835, the R.S.A. secured exhibition rights in the Royal Institution building, which had been erected on The Mound by the Board of Manufactures in 1826. The R.S.A. and the Board frequently argued over responsibilities for advanced art education. From 1859, the R.S.A. shared the premises of the new National Gallery of Scotland under the Board’s custody. In 1910, after transferring most of its art collections to the Gallery, the R.S.A. gained exclusive tenancy of the former Royal Institution building, where it continues to hold large-scale annual exhibitions.

The Trustees’ Academy was founded in Edinburgh in 1760 by the Board of Trustees for the Improvement of Fisheries and Manufactures in Scotland. This was the earliest publicly funded art school in Britain, but during the early years it was essentially an elementary drawing school dedicated to applied design. The students included practical craftsmen as well as fine artists. The school gradually developed more facilities for advanced fine art education, including a plaster cast collection. In 1826, it relocated to a new building on The Mound, which was erected by the Board. The Trustees’ Academy was reformed in 1858, using the well established government Schools of Design in London as its model, and was the direct ancestor of Edinburgh College of Art, established in 1907.



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Sir George Frederick Harvey (1806-1876) [new window view]


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