Robertson, Archibald (1765-1835) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
Robertson, Archibald (1765-1835)

by Lionel Henry Cust

ROBERTSON, ARCHIBALD (1765–1835), miniature-painter, born at Monymusk in Scotland on 8 May 1765, was eldest son of William Robertson of Drumnahoy, near Aberdeen, and Jean Ross, his wife; Andrew Robertson [q. v.] was his brother. He was educated at Aberdeen, and received his first instruction in drawing from a deaf-and-dumb artist. In 1786 he came to London and became a student of the Royal Aca- demy, working under Sir Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West. His miniature portraits soon attracted attention. Hearing through some Scottish friends that there was an opening for his art in the new world, Robertson removed to America. The Earl of Buchan, who was interested in his progress, gave him a letter of recommendation to Washington, and entrusted to him a gift known as the ‘Wallace Box,’ requesting at the same time a portrait of Washington from the pencil of Robertson. This introduction gained for Robertson admission into the family circle of Washington. He painted a portrait of Washington in oils for Buchan, and miniatures of Washington and his wife in watercolours on ivory, which are in the possession of two of Robertson's grand-daughters. Robertson met with so much success that he settled in New York, and was joined by his brother Alexander in 1792. They set up a drawing school at 79 Liberty Street, New York, known as the Columbian Academy. Both brothers became prominent citizens in New York. Archibald died there in 1835. An engraved portrait of him was published in 1805.

Archibald married, in 1793, Eliza, daughter of Andrew Abramse and Magdalen Lispenard of New York, and had a numerous family, of whom the fourth son, Anthony Lispenard Robertson, became chief justice of New York.

[Letters and Papers of Andrew Robertson, edited by Emily Robertson; Unpublished Washington Portraits (Magazine of American History, April 1888); Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography.]

L. C.