Robert   Ronald   Mc'Ian, A.R.S.A.

(Scotland, 1802 - 13 December 1856, Hampstead, north London)



Robert Ronald McIan (also Robert Ranald McIan), was an actor and painter of Scottish descent. He is best known for romanticised depictions of Scottish clansmen, their battles and domestic life.

McIan eloped with and married Frances (Fanny) Whitaker (c.1814–1897), daughter of a Bath cabinet maker. A friend described them as "The painter and his painter-wife -- two who went hand in hand, and heart with heart, together through the world".

Mrs. McIan was a noted painter in her own right, who exhibited at the Royal Academy and other leading galleries. She too favoured historical subjects from the Highlands, such as Highlander defending his Family at the Massacre of Glencoe. The Highlander in question would have been a MacDonald of Glencoe, also known as Clan McIan. From 1842, until Robert's death she was the first Superindent of the Female School of Design, which became the Royal Female School of Art and ultimately part of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. They moved to 9 Great Coram Street in 1843 and 36 Charlotte Street in 1849.

McIan learned to paint while he was an actor, and submitted his first landscape to the Royal Academy in 1836. He exhibited in the Suffolk Street Gallery in 1835 and 1837 while acting at the newly rebuilt English Opera House. His 1838 portrait of novelist Anna Maria Hall (Mrs. S.C. Hall) was praised by Camilla Toulmin.

He is perhaps best known for his illustrations in The Clans of The Scottish Highlands, published in 1845 on the centenary of the Jacobite Rising with text by James Logan. It proved so popular that it was reissued in 1857, after his death. His depictions of clansmen fanned the romantic revival of interest in Gaeldom that was led by Queen Victoria, to whom the book was dedicated.

McIan's early paintings concentrated on scenes from domestic life in the Highlands, such as illicit whisky stills and women grinding corn. These culminated in the 1848 sequel to the Clans book, entitled Gaelic Gatherings: Or The Highlanders at Home, on the Heath, the River and the Loch.

In later life his works increasingly took on overtly nationalistic subjects, celebrating the exploits of Highland soldiers against the English and overseas. Paintings of the 79th Cameron Highlanders were commissioned by Colonel Lauderdale Maule to celebrate the end of his ten-year colonelcy of the regiment in December 1852. An Incident in the Revolutionary War of America showed the 71st Fraser Highlanders' heroic defence at the Battle of Stono Ferry and was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1854. McIan was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1852 and died at Hampstead, north London, on 13 December 1856.



Robert Ronald Mc'Ian, A.R.S.A.

This artist, engravings from whose works were at one time very popular, and still remain so in the Scottish Highlands, was descended from the old race of the Maclans or Macdonalds of Glencoe. He took to the stage early in his youth, and was great in playing the part of the Dugald Creature in 'Rob Roy' before his eighteenth year, at which time he gave up acting and took to painting. He had all the characteristics of the Celt -- an enthusiastic temperament, great energy, and a passionate love and admiration for everything pertaining to his native Highlands.

Among the pictures by which he distinguished himself were a "Battle of Culloden" and a "Highland Feud" (robbing an eagle's nest), in 1843. Maclan exhibited perhaps what was his most ambitious picture, representing an "Encounter in Upper Canada," in which a portion of the Clan Fraser resisted a superior force of French and American Indians. This was a large canvas exhibited in the Scottish Academy, crowded with figures fighting, dying, or dead, in which the passion of the combatants was shown intensified to such a degree as to satisfy the most sanguinary tendencies of the spectator. He appeared in the Royal Academy in 1843, with a "Highland Ceamach defending a Pass," which was skied (high in the air) by the hanging committee, and was one of his engraved works. In the same year he published the first part of a book on the Highland Clans, and his Coronach was also shown later on at the Academy.

As would be expected, he was a clever reciter and singer of Scottish songs, being especially great in "Donald Caird" and "We arena fou." The latter song he at one time interpreted so naturally in the house of the late Mr. S. C. Hall, that the servant made a confidential inquiry at his master as to whether he ought to procure a cab to convey the gentleman home. At the Eglinton tournament he took the part of a medieval jester. He was elected Associate of the Scottish Academy in 1852, and his death, which occurred at Hampstead, is said to have resulted from an illness aggravated by the news of the deaths of many of his friends in the Crimean campaign.

His wife, Mrs Fanny Maclan, was long the mistress of the Female School of Design in London. She is well known from a popular engraving of her picture representing a Highlander defending his Family at the Massacre of Glencoe. Among her pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution may be mentioned the E"mpty Cradle," a "Highland Ceamach," "Dying Cateran," and "Liberty and Captivity."

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]



Robert Ronald McIan, a Scotch painter, born in Scotland, 1802, died at Hampstead, Dec. 13, 1856. He was a true Scottish Highlander, one of the ancient race of the Mac Ians or Macdonalds of Glencoe. His earlier years were passed on the stage, and he attained to great eminence as a delineator of characters associated with his native country, (ex. Rob Roy). He afterwards quitted this profession and adopted that of art, in which lie arrived at considerable excellence, applying himself to it with the indomitable energy that was the leading feature in his character. His pencil never seemed so much at home as in delineating the wild scenes of his native land, or tho still more violent and stormy conflicts that diversify her annals. Among his finest pictures are the "Battle of Culloden," "An Encounter in Upper Canada," in which a party of the "Clan Fraser made a gallant stand against a greatly superior force of French, and American Indians;" "The Coronach," Mr. McIan's fame was greatly extended by his beautiful drawings for various illustrated works devoted to the scenery, costume, and character of the Scottish Highlands, including the Tho Clans of Scotland,(2 vols), folio; Gaelic Gatherings, folio. Indeed, his extensive acquaintance with the land and the people, derived from intense sympathy and affection, gave him almost a monopoly of these subjects, during his professional career.

Biographical History of the Fine Arts, Or, Memoirs of the Lives and Works of Eminent Painters, Engravers, Sculptors, and Architects: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Time, Shearjashub Spooner, 1873.


View painter's work: Robert Ronald McIan (1802-1856)


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