Charles Lees

(Cupar in Fifeshire, 1800 - 28 February 1880)

Charles Lees was born in 1800 in Cupar, Fifeshire, and began his artistic career as a pupil of Raeburn. With the exception of six months spent in Rome, Lees spent his entire working life in Scotland.Lees painted principally true-to-life scenes of Scottish life and landscapes, although he is perhaps remembered mostly for his many depictions of sporting art.

"The Golfers", by Charles Lees, 1847
In 1847, Lees completed his depiction of the 1844, grand match at St Andrews in an oil painting, "The Golfers", which has been cited as being "the most famous golfing work of art in the world." It shows the annual autumn meeting of October 1844, the scene being set at the 'Ginger Beer Hole' on the 'Old Course' at St Andrews. The particular match thus recorded was that between Sir David Baird of Newbyth, Bart., and Sir Ralph Anstruther of Balcaskie, Bart., against Major Hugh Lyon Playfair of St. Andrews and John Campbell, Esq. of Glensaddel. As a portraitist, Lees had painted the true likeness of the actual players and spectators, and a key survives naming them all. The original oil painting is owned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. An engraving was made by Charles E. Wagstaffe (born 1808) from which prints were produced.

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Duddingston Loch Skating Scene

Curling Match at Linlithgow Loch

CHARLES LEES, (1800–1880), painter, born at Cupar in Fifeshire in 1800, studied art in Edinburgh, and received instructions in portraiture from Sir Henry Raeburn. He married early in life and went to Rome, where he studied for some years. On his return he settled in Edinburgh as a portrait-painter. Lees was elected one of the earliest fellows of the Royal Scottish Academy, and was a regular contributor to their exhibitions. He very seldom sent a picture to the London exhibitions. Besides portraits, he painted history, domestic subjects, and landscape, taking to the last late in life. Among his earlier pictures were, 'The Murder of Rizzio,' 'The Death of Cardinal Beaton,' and 'John Knox in Prison.' He was fond of outdoor sports, and painted pictures of skaters, hockey players, and other sporting scenes. Two pictures by him of curling and golf matches were engraved; they contain a number of portraits of well-known performers at these games. A picture by him, 'Summer Moonlight -- Bait-gatherers,' is in the Scottish National Gallery at Edinburgh. He also painted a large view of St. Mark's at Venice. Lees was for some years treasurer and one of the trustees of the Scottish Academy, and devoted much time to its affairs. He died on 28 Feb. 1880, of paralysis.

[Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32, by Lionel Henry Cust; Art Journal, 1880; Builder, 1880; Catalogue of National Gallery of Scotland.]

Charles, Lees, a Scottish painter, who was born in 1800, is chiefly known for his historical paintings, such as 'The Murder of Rizzio' and 'John Knox during his Confinement.' He also executed various landscapes of merit. His paintings were frequently seen on the walls of the Royal Scottish Academy, of which he was a member from 1830. until his death in 1880.

Among the many sufferers by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank was Charles Lees, who was concerned in it as a trustee on behalf of his sister, and the shock of which brought on a stroke of paralysis which terminated fatally after a few days' illness. He was a native of Cupar in Fifeshire, and studied art in Edinburgh, where he began his career by teaching drawing, afterwards taking to portrait-painting, in which he was benefited by some little instruction from Raebum. After some years' practice, in the course of which he got married, he spent a few years in Rome studying from the old masters, and returned to Edinburgh, where he resumed his portrait-painting, and joined the Scottish Academy in 1830, along with the seceders from the Royal Institution. He painted some good historical pictures, such as the "Murder of Rizzio," the "Death of Cardinal Beaton," and "John Knox during his Confinement." Being fond of open-air sports and pastimes, he found among these his most congenial subjects, and exhibited "Shinty on the Ice" in 1861, a charming composition full of hazy light and atmosphere; "Skaters at Duddingston Loch," in 1854; "Golfers on St Andrews Links," with numerous portraits, in 1865; "Curlers," in 1867; and many other similar subjects. In the latter part of his life he devoted himself more to landscape-painting, chiefly from subjects on the east coast, varied by an occasional portrait and domestic scene. Among his landscapes, a "View of St Mark's at Venice" was very highly spoken of.

He gave a great deal of his time to the management of the affairs of the Royal Scottish Academy, for which he acted as treasurer from 1868 till his death, and he is favourably represented in the Scottish National Gallery by the "Summer-Moon Bait- Gatherers," which was exhibited in 1860.

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]

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