1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Allan, Sir William

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ALLAN, SIR WILLIAM (1782–1850), Scottish painter, was born at Edinburgh, and at an early age entered as a pupil in the School of Design established in Edinburgh by the Board of Trustees for Arts and Manufactures, where he had as companions, John Wilkie, John Burnet the engraver, and others who afterward distinguished themselves as artists. Here Allan and Wilkie were placed at the same table, studied the same designs, and contracted a lifelong friendship. Allan continued his studies for some time in London; but his attempt to establish himself there was unsuccessful, and after exhibiting at the Royal Academy (1805) his first picture, “A Gipsy Boy and Ass,” an imitation in style of Opie, he determined, in spite of his scanty resources, to seek his fortune abroad. He accordingly set out the same year for Russia, but was carried by stress of weather to Mernel, where he remained for some time, supporting himself by his pencil. At last, however, he reached St Petersburg, where the kindness of Sir Alexander Crichton, the court physician, and other friends procured him abundant employment. By excursions into southern Russia, Turkey, the Crimea and Circassia, he filled his portfolio with vivid sketches, of which he made admirable use in his subsequent pictures. In 1814 he returned to Edinburgh, and in the two following years exhibited at the Royal Academy “The Circassian Captives” and “Bashkirs conducting Convicts to Siberia.” The former picture remained so long unsold, that, thoroughly disheartened, he threatened to retire to Circassia when, through the kindness of Sir Walter Scott, a subscription of 1000 guineas was obtained for the picture, which fell by lot into the possession of the earl of Wemyss. About the same time the Grand Duke Nicholas, afterwards tsar of Russia, visited Edinburgh, and purchased his “Siberian Exiles” and “Haslan Gheray crossing the River Kuban,” giving a very favourable turn to the fortunes of the painter, whose pictures were now sought for by collectors. From this time to 1834 he achieved his greatest success and firmly established his fame by the illustration of Scottish history. His most important works of this class were “Archbishop Sharpe on Magus Moor”; “John Knox admonishing Mary Queen of Scots” (1823), engraved by Burnet; “Mary Queen of Scots signing her Abdication” (1824); and “Regent Murray shot by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh.” The last procured his election as an associate of the Royal Academy (1825). Later Scottish subjects were “Lord Byron” (1831), portraits of Scott and “The Orphan” (1834), which represented Anne Scott seated near the chair of her deceased father. In 1830 he was compelled, on account of an attack of ophthalmic, to seek a milder climate, and visited Rome, Naples and Constantinople. He returned with a rich store of materials, of which he made excellent use in his “Constantinople Slave Market” and other productions. In 1834 he visited Spain and Morocco, and in 1841 went again to St Petersburg, when he undertook, at the request of the tsar, his “Peter the Great teaching his Subjects the Art of Shipbuilding,” exhibited in London in 1845, and now in the Winter Palace of St Petersburg. His “Polish Exiles” and “Moorish Love-letter,” &c., had secured his election as a Royal Academician in 1835; he was appointed president of the Royal Scottish Academy (1838), and royal limner for Scotland, after Wilkie's death (1841); and in 1842 received the honour of knighthood. His later years were occupied with battle-pieces, the last he finished being the second of his two companion pictures of the “Battle of Waterloo.” He died on the 22nd of February 1850, leaving a large unfinished picture- “ Bruce at Bannockburn.”