Notable Scots: Artists
Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840):
Nasmyth was born and educated in Edinburgh, and apprenticed as a heraldic painter to a coach-builder. Nasmyth excelled as an apprentice - by the time he was sixteen he had attracted the attention of royal portraitist Allan Ramsay. Ramsay, sensing of the boy's potential, took him to London and employed him on subordinate portions of his work. Nasmyth flourished under Ramsay's tutelage, and found quick success as a portraitist after upon his return to Edinburgh in 1778.
Nasmyth's most famous work is a 1787 portrait of his close friend Robert Burns. This piece, which is the most well-known and widely circulated image of the Bard, was commissioned by Burns' publisher, William Creech. It was to be engraved and serve as the frontispiece for the Edinburgh edition of the Kilmarnock volume of poetry. Nasmyth intentionally left the painting slightly unfinished, pleased as he was with having captured Burns' likeness.
Nasmyth, however, offended his genteel patrons with his outspoken Liberal opinions as political sentiment in Edinburgh grew fervent. As his commissions declined, his attention was increasingly occupied with landscape painting. Successful efforts earned him even greater recognition as an artist - he was later credited as the founder of Scotland's landscape tradition.
Later, Nasmyth's six daughters all gained local recognition as artists; his son Patrick also succeeded in earning fame as a landscape painter. Nasmyth's youngest son, James, became famous for inventing the steam hammer.