Aikman, George (DNB12)

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AIKMAN, GEORGE (1830–1905), painter and engraver, born at the top of Warriston Close, in the High Street, Edinburgh, on 20 May 1830, was ninth child of George Aikman of Edinburgh by his wife Alison McKay. The father, after employment by William Home Lizars [q. v.] the engraver in St. James Square, Edinburgh, started business for himself about 1825 in Warriston Close, where he carried on the Lizars' tradition by producing all the plates and illustrations for the seventh edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica.' Many of these were drawn and engraved by his son George. From a private school the boy was sent to Edinburgh High School, where he was for three sessions in the class of Dr. James Boyd. He was then apprenticed to his father, who had removed his business to 29 North Bridge, and after a journeyman period, during which he worked in Manchester and London, he was admitted a partner.

While serving his apprenticeship he had attended the classes of the Trustees' Academy, then directed by Robert Scott Lauder [q. v.], and the Royal Scottish Academy life-class. As early as 1850 he was exhibiting at the Scottish Academy exhibitions, but it was not until 1870 that he abandoned business for painting. In 1880 he was elected an A.R.S.A. Between 1874 and 1904 he exhibited at nine of the Royal Academy exhibitions in London. Except for a few portraits and some canvases depicting humours of monastic life, Aikman's theme as a painter was landscape, chiefly that of the Perthshire Highlands and of Warwickshire. It was generally low in tone; his skies were sometimes very luminous, but in oils his colour tended to heaviness, which was avoided in his water-colours, in which medium, though he rented it lightly, he was more successful. He practised etching during the greater part of his life, and towards the end he engraved several mezzotints. Impressions of some of these were exhibited, but only a few of them were published. The engraved plates included 'Robert Burns' (etching), after A. Nasmyth, and 'Sir Douglas Maclagan' (etching), after Sir George Reid; while among his original plates were 'Carlyle in his Study' (etching); 'Sir Daniel Macnee, P.R.S.A.' (etching); 'Norham Castle' (etching); 'Coming Storm across the Moor' (mezzotint). An etching after his picture 'For the Good of the Church' (R.A., 1874) was purchased by the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. Aikman contributed to the 'Etcher' (1880, 1882), 'English Etchings' (1883-4), and 'Selected Etchings' (1885), and he illustrated 'A Round of the Links: Views of the Golf Greens of Scotland' (1893), with etchings after the drawings of John Smart, R.S.A., and 'The Midlothian Eska' (1895).

Aikman acquired through his father and through his own study and research an exceptionally full knowledge of the engravers and painters of earlier generations, and some contributions on this topic to the 'Art Journal' were of considerable value. Devotedly attached to Edinburgh, he made drawings of ancient houses doomed to demolition, and the City Museum possesses a collection of these memorials.

He died in Edinburgh on 8 Jan. 1905, and was buried in Warriston cemetery. On 2 Dec. 1859 Aikman married Elizabeth Barnett, who with three daughters and two sons survived him.

[Private information; Scotsman, 9 Jan. 1905; Graves, Royal Acad. Exhibitors, 1905; Catalogues of the Royal Scottish Academy.]

D. S. M.