Robert   Thorburn   Ross

(Berwick-on-Tweed, Edinburgh, 15 May 1849 - 28 September 1903. Edinburgh)

Born at Berwick-on-Tweed, youngest child of two sons and two daughters of Robert Thorburn Ross, R.S.A. (1816-1876), by his wife Margaret Scott. The parents removed to Edinburgh for good when Joseph was a baby. Having been educated at the Military Academy, Hill Street, Edinburgh, he was engaged for a time in mercantile pursuits in Leith and Gloucester, but eventually, after a successful career as a student in the Edinburgh School of Art and the life school of the Royal Scottish Academy (1877-1880), he devoted himself to painting as a profession. He first exhibited in 1872, but an unconventional strain in his work retarded its official recognition, and it was not till 1896, that he was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. Portraiture, fantasy, landscape, and the sea were all treated by him, and if at times decorative intention and realism were imperfectly harmonised, and the execution and draughtsmanship, though bold, lacked mastery, the colour was nearly always beautiful and the result novel and interesting. But it was in sketches made spontaneously for themselves or as studies for more ambitious pictures that he was at his best. He worked in both oil and water-colour and possessed instinctive feeling for the proper use of each medium. Ross was familiar with the best art on the Continent, travelling much in Italy, and he was a frequent exhibitor at some of the leading exhibitions abroad, his 'Serata Veneziana' winning a diploma of honour at Dresden in 1892. He was unmarried and resided at Edinburgh with his sisters. He died from the effects of a fall in his Edinburgh studio.

Shortly afterwards, at a memorial exhibition of his work held in Edinburgh, his admirers purchased 'The Bass Rock,' one of his most important pictures, and presented it to the National Gallery of Scotland. One of his two sisters, Christina Paterson Ross, R.S.W. (1843-1906), was well known as a water-colour painter. His other sister. Miss Jessie Ross, Edinburgh, has three portraits of her brother, two when a child by his father, and one in oils painted by Mr. William Small in 1903.

[Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, by James Lewis Caw Ross; Scotsman, 29 Sept. 1903; Exhibition catalogues; R.S.A. Report, 1903; introduction. to catatalog, Memorial Exhibition, 1904, by W. D. Mackay, R.S.A.; Scottish Painting, by J. L. Caw.]

Ross, Robert Thorburn. Born in Edinburgh, 1816. Student of the Trustees Academy for three years, when he opened a studio in Glasgow, painting portraits for some time. In 1842, he went to Bewick, remaining for ten years, and for the first time turning his attention to ideal subjects, contributing to the Royal Scottish Academy, in 1845, "The Spinning-Wheel." In 1852, when he was elected an Associate of that Academy, he removed to Edinburgh. He was made an Academician in 1869. Among his works, many of which have been engraved, are:
"The Dead Robin"
"The Mote in the Eye"
"Hide and Seek"
"The Thorn in the Foot"
"The Dancing-Lesson"
"The Broken Pitcher"
"Leaving Home"
"Highland Pets"
"Asleep" and
"The Highland Shepherd's Fireside."

"This artist [Ross] has evidently studied Scottish life in the cottage, on the sea-coast, and by the river-side. His pictures are all of this class of subject, which he renders with fidelity, and under most attractive aspects. He is an excellent colorist, and shows true feeling for the picturesque, both in his figures and their surroundings, whether in or out of doors." -- Art Journal, 1871.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works. By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton. 1879.


(Edinburgh, 1816-1876, Edinburgh)

This eminent and popular domestic painter was bom in Edinburgh, where at the age of fifteen he was put under the instruction of George Simson, R.S.A., then the leading art-teacher in Edinburgh. After serving for some time as an assistant to Mr. Simson, during which he studied at the Trustees' Academy for three years under Sir William Allan, he settled in Glasgow as a portrait-painter, and occasionally visited other towns for the same purpose. In 1842, he paid a visit to Berwick-on-Tweed, where his father was a master-gunner: he settled there. for some ten years, and practised painting more than hitherto, his portraits being mostly done in crayon while in Glasgow. From Berwick he sent his first contribution to the exhibitions of the Scottish Academy, the "Spinning-Wheel" in 1845, and thenceforward was a regular contributor. Among his other works painted during this period were the "Dead Robin," "Pious Conversation," the "Mote in the Eye," and "Blowing Hard." On his return to Edinburgh, where he afterwards permanently settled, he was elected an Associate in 1852, after which he painted "Hide and Seek" (purchased by the late Mr. Graham of Skebnorlie, and published in photographic form by the Glasgow Art Union), the "Thorn in the Foot," "Dame's School" (not exhibited, and purchased by the Glasgow Art Union), "Spinning Wool," the "Broken Pitcher," 'Country Lassie", the last-mentioned being bought by his friend Sir Daniel Macnee. His subjects were almost exclusively from domestic life and are characterised by excellent colour and fine feeling, especially in the delineation of children and childish sports and amusements. He was elected full Academician in 1869, and died in Edinburgh. His works are almost unknown south of the Tweed, and he is represented in the Scottish National Gallery by "Asleep," and "Sunshine," a larger picture, which was bequeathed to the Gallery by the late Mr. J. Scott of Edinburgh. His works in water-colour were also highly appreciated, and his daughter Miss Ross still worthily practises that branch of art.

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]

View painter's work: Robert Thorburn Ross (1816-1876) [new window view]