Leitch, William Leighton (DNB00)

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LEITCH, WILLIAM LEIGHTON (1804–1883), water-colour painter, was born at Glasgow on 22 Nov. 1804. His father had been a sailor, but about the time of Leitch's birth became a soldier. Leitch soon developed a strong inclination for art, and used to practise drawing at night with David Macnee, afterwards president of the Scottish Academy. After a good general education, he was placed in a lawyer's ofiice; but neither this employment nor that of weaving, to which he was next set, was agreeable to him, and he was apprenticed to Mr. Harbut, a house-painter and decorator. In 1824 he was engaged as a scene-painter at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, and married Miss Susannah Smellie, who bore him five sons and two daughters. The theatre failing, he spent two years at Mauchline, painting snuff-boxes, and then came to London, where he made the acquaintance of David Roberts [q. v.] and Clarkson Stanfield [q. v.], and obtained employment as a scene-painter at the Queen's (afterwards the Prince of Wales's) Theatre in Tottenham Street. He had some lessons from Copley Fielding, and was employed by Mr. Anderden, a stockbroker, to make drawings for a work he was writing. The same gentleman provided him with funds to visit the continent. After exhibiting two drawings at the Society of British Artists, 1832, he set out in 1833, passing through Holland, Germany, and Switzerland to Italy. After an absence of four years, during which he had supported himself mainly by teaching, and had visited the principal cities of Italy, and made numerous sketches there and in Sicily, he returned to London in July 1837.

He now devoted himself almost entirely to teaching and drawing in watercolours. He had great success as a teacher. Many mebers of the aristocracy were among his pupils, and an introduction by Lady Canning to the Queen led to his employment as drawing master to her majesty and the royal family for two-and-twenty-years. The Princess of Wales was his last pupil.

Leitch occasionally sent an oil picture to the Royal Academy between 1841 and 1861, but in 1862 he was elected a member of the (now Royal) Institute of painters in Watercolours. From that time he contributed regularly to its exhibitions but did not exhibit elsewhere. For some years before his death, which took place on 25 April 1883, he had been vice-presidenet of this society, and a posthumous collection of his works was exhibited at their rooms in Piccadilly. Two only of his children survived him. His eldet son, Robert, a good watercolour painter, died in 1882.

Although not endowed with extraordinary genius, Leitch was a master of his art. He has been described as perhaps the last of our classical landscape painters, and certainly the last of the great English teachers of landscape painting. His art was based on a profound study of nature and of the great masters, especially Turner in his prime. His works are marked by their graceful composition, their pure colour, and brilliant effects of atmosphere.

Among the books illustrated with engravings from his drawings are the Rev. Robert Walsh's "Constantinople and the Turkish empire", 1838, the Rev. G. N. Wright's "The Rhine, Italy and Greece", 1840, the same author's "Shores and islands of the Mediterranean", 1841, William Brockedon's "Italy", 1843, Sir T. D. Lauder's "Memorial of the royal progress in Scotland" 1843, and J. P. Lawson's "Scotland delineated", 1847-54. The sketches in his possession at his death, with a very few finished drawings and oil pictures, were sold at Christie's in March 1884, and brought upwards of 9,000 pounds.

[MacGeorge's W. L. Leitch, a memoir; Bryan's Dict. (Armstrong).]

C. M.