Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Graham, John (1754-1817)

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GRAHAM, JOHN (1754–1817), painter, was born in Edinburgh in 1754. He was apprenticed to Farquhar, the leading coach-painter there, and afterwards pursued the same occupation in London, and studied in the schools of the Royal Academy. He resided in Leicester Square, London, contributed to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy from 1780 to 1797, and executed two subjects for Boydell's ‘Shakespeare Gallery.’ On 7 Feb. 1798 (see Minute of the board) he was appointed by the board of trustees for manufactures in Scotland, on the recommendation of Sir William Forbes, their teacher for the higher branches of design, and, casts of busts and statues having been procured, his academy was opened on 27 Nov. 1799 in a room in St. James's Square, Edinburgh. Among the first students admitted were David Wilkie and William Allan, afterwards P.R.S.A. On 5 March 1800 the entire Trustees' Academy, including its decorative and ornamental department, was placed under Graham's charge, and he held the appointment till his death on 1 Nov. 1817. In 1812 he contributed a scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and a subject from Ovid to the fifth annual exhibition of the Associated Artists, Edinburgh.

His works are correct, in good taste, and broadly handled, and they evince considerable power; but his portraits—of which ‘Miss Wallis as Juliet’ and ‘Master Murray’ were mezzotinted by J. Grozer and P. Dawe—are less excellent than his figure pictures. He is known as an animal painter by a series of studies of lions and tigers, painted in the menagerie of the Tower. As a teacher he was eminently successful; he introduced various improvements into the system of training, and succeeded in inspiring his pupils with his own enthusiasm for art. Among those who studied under him, in addition to the names mentioned above, were James and John Burnet [q. v.], Alexander Fraser (1786–1865) [q. v.], and Sir John Watson-Gordon [q. v.] Wilkie retained the greatest respect for his memory, and the print from his old master's ‘Burial of General Fraser’ always hung in his study. Cunningham describes him as ‘a kind and ardent-minded man, of native understanding and joyous and sarcastic humour.’ His ‘Murder of Rizzio’ was mezzotinted by Dickinson; his ‘David instructing Solomon,’ 1797, was acquired by the Earl of Wemyss; the ‘Disobedient Prophet’ is in the National Gallery of Scotland; and the ‘Portrait of Alderman Boydell’ and the ‘Escape of Queen Mary from Lochleven’ were presented by Boydell to the Stationers' Hall, London, and are still preserved there.

[Scots Mag. 1817, vol. lxxx.; Minute-book of Board of Manufactures, Edinburgh; Manuscript History of the Trustees' Academy, by A. Christie, A.R.S.A.; Cunningham's Life of Wilkie; J. Chaloner Smith's British Mezzotint Portraits; Catalogues of National Gallery of Scotland, Royal Academy, and Exhibitions of Associated Artists, Edinburgh.]

J. M. G.