Sir James Dromgole Linton

(28 December 1840 - 3 October 1916)

James Dromgole Linton was born on Boxing Day 1840 in London, after school in Barnes he attended Leigh's School of Art Newham Street, London.

At the age of 23 he began exhibiting at the Dudley Gallery, and soon after started entering paitings with the Royal Institue. After seven years of consistant exhibiting at the Institute he was elected a member in 1870. For a number of years after he worked to develop the profile of the Institute and in 1883 Linton became its first president, a role he held until 1887. This work was acknowledged in 1885 when he was awarded a Knighthood.

Lintons work forms part of a movement during the late Victorian era where the past was depicted with particular sentimentality. Artist such as Linton, Sir John Gilbert and the Cattermole's all treated historical subjects with a Victorian slant. Very often the figurative subjects were medieval or related to a specific historic scene.

Linton has a number of works in this genre of international quality. He hangs in many public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Ashmolean, Cartwright Hall, Bradford City Art Gallery and Dundee City Art Gallery.

Lintons work is of exceptional quality boardering on photographic. He paints subjects with huge personality and the picture above shows this very well.

The gypsy couple are dressed in an 18th cent style, tricorn hat etc. It shows a couple that have been dancing and are now taking a rest in the shade of a wood. The man is looking straight at the artist with distain having been disturbed from his rest, the girl exhausted. There is a hint at poverty but as with many Victorian pictures the signs of poverty are sanitised. Neat holes in stockings a little raggedness to the clothes. No mud or dirt though, no signs of nights sleeping rough, no pangs of hunger in the eyes. Linton is saying that these people are honest people of the road taking a well earned rest by the roadside. The Pre Raphaelites had brought to the public a realism in there technique and then blended that with the romance of the past. Linton achieves this in this and many other paintings.

Interstingly the relationship between the couple is ambigous and changes with the mood of the viewer. Sometimes they are father and daughter bound by love and tinged with the hardship of life. Other times the picture takes on a more sinister look and their relationship seems forced and uncomfortable. The sign of a truly great painting.

Marriage of the
Duke of Albany


He devoted himself chiefly to water-colour painting, and, in 1867 was elected a member of the Institute of Water-colour Painters. In 1883 the Institute underwent reorganization, its name was changed to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-colours, and next year James Linton was chosen as its president, continuing in this office until 1899. In 1885 he received the honour of knighthood. He won fame chiefly as a water-colour painter, but also executed pictures in oil, notably the Marriage of the Duke of Albany, painted by command in 1885. In 1897 he received the Jubilee Medal.


Sir James Dromgole Linton recommended purchases to the State Art Collection in the early years of the nineteenth century and his son, James W.R. Linton, became an influential artist, designer and teacher in Perth. His son, James A.B. Linton established himself as a jeweller.


Sir James Dromgole Linton, President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-colours, Hon. President of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, a Member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, an Hon. Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the Belgian Order of Leopold, and was created Knight, 1885.


JAMES D. LINTON was born in London on Boxing Day, 1840, so that he is still a young man [publ.1880]. His parents were fairly well to do, but in the panic of 1857, they with so many more unfortunate and unhappy families lost all, or nearly all they possessed. Young Dromgole then realised the fact that a life of work lay before him, and with the earnestness that has characterised him through life, he faced it like a man.

Long before this he had made up his mind to be an artist. His father did not look at all favourably on this prospect, for his son did not display any special ability or promise of talent for the profession which, one would think demanded above all others, special promise of future ability and talent before entering, so he was placed with a firm to learn the art and mystery which it really was then, and was so-called of glass painting, and at the same time he joined the St. Martin's School of Art in Long Acre. From that he migrated to a school in Newman Street, kept by Mr. Heatherly, where he continued-up to the expiration of his articles in 1861. Two years after (1863), he commenced painting in water colour, at which he has shown that he has few equals living.

His great friend at this time was G. H. Boughton, A.R.A., who helped him then with advice and his interest, and has always since taken a kindly interest in his progress. Mr. Linton first appeared to the public from the walls of the exhibition at the Dudley Gallery, and met with a large amount of success for so young an artist. Knowing then but little of the world's fickleness, he thought this would last forever, and that he had found a comparatively easy road to success and fortune, so he chose a partner for his joys and troubles, and married in 1867, and the same year he was elected an Associate of Painters in Water Colours. But he soon found that no man can win success without being at some time in the shadow, for as soon as he was married, though the wife he had chosen was in every sense of the word, a helpmate, his troubles began, and for at least four years, everything seemed to be going wrong with him. For two whole years he sold scarcely a single picture, and his father having died in the previous year, he had the care and responsibilities of two families thrown on his hands.

In 1871, however, the tide turned. He was elected a full Member of the Institute, and was appointed one of the artists for the Graphic during the Franco-German War. The same year he exhibited "The Lover's Disguise," and "1795 -- Bad News." At the end of the war, he found that his pictures were coming into greater demand, so he was enabled to return entirely to his brush, and at no time since that has he ever had cause to find fault with the support he has received from the public, or to complain of want of purchasers.

In 1873, he obtained the bronze medal (there were no medals but bronze) at Philadelphia for his picture, representing the custom followed at the court of Austria on Maunday Thursday, of the Emperor and Empress attended by the whole of their courtiers washing the feet of a dozen beggars, in imitation of our Lord. This was a large drawing, and gained its painter much renown. It was afterwards exhibited at the first loan exhibition of living artists, at the Grosvenor Gallery, in the winter of 1878-9. This success was followed by "The Lotus Eaters," in 1874, and "Off Guard," in 1875. The latter was also a large drawing, and represented soldiers resting, playing, and singing.

In 1876, he produced "His Eminence, the Cardinal," and " The Huguenot." The subject of the former was suggested by an incident in Sir Walter Scott's Quentin Durward It represents a sentinel posted behind a screen, while the Cardinal is interviewing a couple of suspicious looking emissaries. It is a large drawing, and the figures are dressed in the style of the period of Cardinal Richelieu. The following year he was represented by "Ave Maria," in which a wandering showman is depicted showing an effigy of the Virgin and Child in a box to some soldiers in a room in an inn. The expression of devotion on the faces of some, and the indifference of others, is finely worked out. "Les Emigres" was the subject for 1878. In this an aristocrat with his wife and baby, all disguised, are offering a bribe to a fisherman to ship them to England. This drawing was etched by Ragon, and may be counted as one of Mr. Linton's most successful works. This same year (1878), having finished his drawing for the Institute earlier than he expected, he made an attempt in oil, though he had not touched the material for several years. The result was a study which he called "Biron" and sent it to the Academy, where it was favourably accepted, and hung in a good position.

The Institute also elected him, in conjunction with their president, Louis Hague, and Messrs. Alfred Fripp, and Edward Goodall, of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, to hang the drawings at the French International Exhibition. During the year he worked very hard in oil, and in 1879, we find the following list, all bearing his name on the walls of the Grosvenor gallery.
"Les Emigres," this was the same subject as the water colour drawing in 1878;
"The Quarrel,"
"A Scene from Gil Bias,"
"Valentine," from Faust; this was etched by V. Schuillier, and
"A Study."
While these were being exhibited, he received a commission to execute a series of pictures, illustrating the life of a soldier of the sixteenth century, one of which "Victorious," was exhibited at this year's Grosvenor gallery summer exhibition. This picture was stated by the press to be undoubtedly the success of the Grosvenor season. Many of our readers must have noticed it, but for the benefit of those who were not so fortunate, we give a few words of description. A Renaissance hall in the XVI. century; on the dais sits the monarch and his consort, at their feet sits a jester in the black and gold livery of the Hapsburgs, and behind him is a spiteful looking deformed dwarf. On the rich carpet are strewed trophies of the battle, and among them lying prostrate is the green flag and the crescent; shields of gold, and shields of hippopotamus hide, with boxes of diamonds, lie there among Circassian helmets. From these latter hang chains of mail formed of alternate links of steel and gold, such as was worn by William the Conqueror at Hastings, or in our own time by the brave, chivalrous old Schamyl in the Caucasus. Foremost of all stands the victor bareheaded, though in full armour, and near him is his prisoner, a Turk -- a fine noble figure -- "a foeman worthy of his steel;" behind are the trumpeters. The chief charm of the picture, apart from its conception and the admirable grouping, is the marvellous mastery it shows of technical work, from the tesserae of the pavement to the jewel of golden fleece, which several of the nobles wear; every detail and point is wrought out with wondrous precision.

Mr. Linton is now engaged on a second of the same series, to be entitled the "Benediction." This will be exhibited during the coming year. He has also in hand a series of pictures and studies illustrating scenes and characters from the works of Sir Walter Scott, and a large water colour, entitled "The Admonition," but the oil picture, "Benediction," is so full of detail, that it is extremely doubtful if this latter will be completed in time for this coming spring's exhibition.

The Biograph and Review, Vol IV., For the second six months of 1880


ALTHOUGH Sir James Dromgole Linton is not a member of the Royal Academy, he occupies, in his capacity as President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and Institute of Painters in Oil Colours, a very distinguished position in the modern art-world. As a boy he was determined to be an artist, much against the wish of his father who, however, compromised matters by allowing his son to adopt the craft of stained-glass painting. In his leisure time Sir James studied water-colour to such good purpose that his early work was well hung at both the Academy and the Dudley Gallery, and he decided consequently to accept that particular form of art as his profession.

The Institute of Painters in Water Colours held their exhibitions, in former days, at a little gallery in Pall Mall, and, as it is chiefly through Sir James Linton's exertions that they now have such splendid quarters in Piccadilly, I called at his studio in Cromwell Place, and asked him to tell me how the transformation came about.

“Well,” said Sir James, “when the Royal Academy moved from Trafalgar Square to Burlington House, Piccadilly became the head-quarters of the world of painting, and many of the picture dealers moved to that neighbourhood to Bond Street, for instance. So the Council of the Institute decided that it was superlatively necessary that we should make a change. There was a splendid vacant site in Piccadilly, and, as we were not rich enough to pay for the expense of building, we were obliged to form a commercial company to carry the scheme through; from this company we rent the galleries."

“Did you make any innovations in the rules or methods of your Society?”

“For the first time in England we admitted the work of outsiders to our exhibitions; up to this time all water-colour organizations had closed their doors to the work of those who were not actual members. At present we are obliged to charge a small commission upon the sale of pictures, but I hope that in a year or two we shall be able to dispense with that, and thus give a further impetus to what we contend is the uniform art of the country.”

“By which you mean water-colour?”

“Yes; the art of water-colour painting is essentially English. The English school was founded about the middle of the last Century, that is to say, as regards landscape -- figure painting was not much done until the beginning of the present century. All the foreign schools sprang from ours."

“What do you consider to be the principal advantage of water-colour as a medium?" I asked, as I looked at the drawing Sir James was working at -- a head of Jessica.

“Water-colour has its own processes and its own materials, and one is not trammelled by the rules of the old masters.”

“Why, then, do most painters prefer to work in oil?”

“One reason is that a water-colour can never be very large; and most people like to have as wide a scope as possible. But it is all a matter of individual preference; the actual medium chosen as a mode of expression is of no importance whatever -- it is simply a matter of art. Turner did equally good work in both oil and water-colour, although I personally prefer the work that he did in the latter medium."

“Do you think that the condition of English watercolour art at the present time is satisfactory?”

“I cannot mention names, for obvious reasons, but I think that it is distinctly healthy and full of vitality. It is commercially depressed, but that is another question. As an art it will always be representative of the nineteenth century.”

“And in the future?"

"I think it will take a still higher place. Many who are not appreciated now will be appreciated in the next century, just as many who are overrated at the present time will find their true level. It has always been the same in all arts. When the personality disappears, a free independent judgment is the result, for, in spite of ignorance, truth will survive."

The large collection of sketches that cover the walls of the studio and ante-room gave me another opportunity of being inquisitive.

Sir James confessed that he has a mania for buying pictures, and, to show that he has in his possession almost enough examples of the work of the English masters to form a history, it is only necessary to mention the names of Turner, David Cox, De Wint, Samuel Prout, William Hunt, Constable and John Varley -- the father of English watercolour painting. “You see," continued Sir James, “on the floor above this I have a large studio, which is known as the Linton School. I have between forty and fifty pupils, and it is an enormous advantage to have examples of difierent painters ready to one‘s hand.”

Among the best known of Sir James Linton’s works are the series of five large oil-pictures, descriptive of a soldier’s life in the sixteenth century, and his “Cardinifl Minister,” and “The Wedding of the Duke of Albany.” A stay in Venice brought him under the influence of Titian and Tintoret, and a series of mediaeval drawings was the result. At the present time he is engaged upon a number of drawings upon subjects taken from Shakespearefs comedies; his friend, and brother Member, Mr. Orrock, is making studies of the landscapes of Shakespeare’s country,. and the two series will be exhibited at the Fine Art Society during the season of 1896.

A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day, Volume 1, No. 12, April 22, 1895; [as written, scan-ocr-to-pdf]


By the death of Sir James Dromgole Linton, which occurred at his residence at Haverstock Hill -- on October 3rd, not only has the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours, of which he was President, been deprived of a leader whose energetic and whole-hearted interest in the Institute's welfare has served to uphold the prestige which this body enjoys among the art societies of the United Kingdom, but British art in general is also a great loser. The deceased artist, who was born in December 1840, became an Associate of the Institute in 1867, and Member in 1870. In 1883, the year in which the new galleries in Piccadilly were opened by King Edward (then Prince of Wales), he was elected Vice-President, and in the following year, on the retirement of Mr. Louis Haghe, he was voted to the Presidential Chair, the honour of Knighthood being conferred on him soon afterwards. Sir James held the office of President until 1898, when he was succeeded by Mr. E. J. Gregory, R.A., on whose death in 1909, he resumed the office. He was held in high esteem not only as a man but as an artist whose practice of the art of water-colour painting was marked by a scholarly appreciation of its pictorial possibilities.

© Copyrighted Ownership: The International Studio, Volume 60, Charles Holme, Peyton Boswell, Guy Eglington, William Bernard McCormick, Henry James Whigham, Offices of the International Studio, 1917 - Decoration and ornament. [text will be removed upon request from The International Studio]

View painter's work: Sir James Dromgole Linton (1840-1916) [new window view]