Chisholm, Alexander (DNB00)

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CHISHOLM, ALEXANDER (1792?–1847), portrait and historical painter, was born at Elgin in Morayshire in 1792 or 1793. His father desired that he should be brought up as a weaver, and accordingly sent him at an early age to Peterhead to learn the trade, but his aversion to it was very great, while his predilection for art was so strong that he was in the habit of making sketches on the cloth which was in the loom, and in his leisure moments of resorting to the sea-shore, and there drawing figures on the sand. When about thirteen or fourteen years of age he walked from Peterhead to Aberdeen, and there received some casual instruction in light and shade. The synod was at that time being held in the city, and the boy was allowed to make sketches of its members, which proved so satisfactory that he received a commission to paint them, but this he was forced to decline, as he was totally ignorant of the use of colours. At the age of nineteen or twenty he went to Edinburgh, where he gained the patronage of the Earls of Elgin and Buchan, and was afterwards appointed a teacher in the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1818 he removed to London, and met with much success as a painter of portraits, both in oil and in water colours, among which was that of his patron, the Earl of Buchan, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1822. His first contribution to the Royal Academy was in 1820, and from that time until his death he exhibited there and at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists forty-one works, as well as some excellent drawings at the rooms of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, of which he became an associate exhibitor in 1829. Besides portraits, his earlier works comprise many small figure subjects, some of which were engraved in the ‘Forget-me-not’ and other annuals, but his favourite style of art was history. His most important pictures are: ‘Shakespeare before Sir Thomas Lucy,' exhibited in 1834: ‘Lady Jane Grey going to Execution,’ 1836: ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night,’ 1837; ‘The Baptism of Ben Jonson's Daughter,’ to whom Shakespeare stood godfather, 1838, and again 1840; ‘The Lords of the Congregation taking the Oath of the Covenant,’ 1813; ‘Charles II offering to purchase some Miniatures from Mrs. Oliver, wife of Isaac Oliver, Miniature Painter,’ 1844; ‘An Incident in the Life of Sir Philip Sidney,’ 1845: and ‘The Minister of Kinneff and his wife concealing in the church the Scottish Regalia,’ his last work, exhibited in 1846.

Chisholm died at Rothesay in the Isle of Bute on 3 Oct. 1847, while taking portraits for a picture of the great meeting of the Evangelical Alliance, in the painting of which he was engaged. For nine years previously he suffered much from depression, arising from the death of his wife, who, when Miss Susanna Stewart Fraser, had been one of his private pupils at Edinburgh. There is a drawing, ‘The Pedlar,’ by him, in the South Kensington Museum.

[Art-Union, 1848, p. 27; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1820-46; British Institution Exhibition Catalogues, 1826-41; Exhibition Catalogues of the Society of British Artists, 1829-46; Exhibition Catalogues of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, 1829-46.]

R. E. G.