Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harvey, George

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HARVEY, Sir GEORGE (1806–1876), painter, was born at St. Ninians, Stirlingshire, in February 1806. Shortly after his birth his father, a watchmaker, settled in the town of Stirling, and here the boy was apprenticed to a bookseller. At the age of eighteen his devotion to art brought him to Edinburgh, where he studied for about two years in the Trustees' Academy. In 1826 he exhibited his first picture of a ‘Village School’ in the Edinburgh Institution, and in the same year he became one of the original associates of the Scottish Academy, to whose first exhibition in 1827 he contributed seven works. He now devoted himself to figure pictures, of which the subjects were derived from the history and the daily life of the Scottish nation. Among these may be named ‘Covenanters Preaching,’ 1829–1830; ‘Covenanters' Baptism,’ 1830–31; ‘The Curlers,’ 1834–5; ‘A Schule Skailin',’ 1846; and ‘Quitting the Manse,’ 1847–8; works, characterised by homely truth and excellent insight into Scottish character, which have become widely popular through engravings. His other important figure-pictures include ‘Shakespeare before Sir Thomas Lucy,’ 1836–7; ‘A Castaway,’ 1839; ‘First Reading of the Bible in the Crypt of St. Paul's,’ 1839–40; and ‘Dawn revealing the New World to Columbus,’ 1852. He produced a few portraits, such as those of Professor John Wilson, 1851, and the Rev. Dr. John Brown, 1856. Though most widely known by his figure-pictures, he ranks even higher as a landscape-painter. In this department of art his execution is singularly spontaneous and unlaboured, and in the expression of the very spirit of border landscape, of the quiet sublimity of great stretches of rounded grassy hills, he proves himself, in works like ‘The Enterkin,’ 1846, without a rival among Scottish painters. His landscapes were, for the most part, the work of his later life. Among the finest of them are ‘Ferragon,’ 1857; ‘We Twa hae paidled in the Burn,’ 1858; ‘Sheap-shearing,’ 1859; ‘Glen Dhu, Arran,’ 1861; and ‘Inverarnan, Loch Lomond,’ 1870. In 1829 Harvey became a full member of the Scottish Academy, to whose interests, in its early days of struggle, he devoted himself unweariedly. In 1864 he succeeded Sir John Watson Gordon [q. v.] as president, and received the honour of knighthood, and six years later he published his ‘Notes on the Early History of the Royal Scottish Academy’ (London, 1870, 8vo), giving curious particulars regarding its foundation and progress, a volume which attained a second edition in 1873. In 1867 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to which he contributed, 21 Dec. 1868, a paper ‘On the Colour of Aërial Blue.’ He died at Edinburgh on 22 Jan. 1876. Three of his works are in the National Gallery of Scotland; his portrait by Robert Herdman, R.S.A., and his bust by John Hutchison, R.S.A., are in the possession of the Royal Scottish Academy.

[Harvey's Celebrated Paintings, a Selection from the Work of Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A., with descriptions by the Rev. A. L. Simpson, F.S.A. Scot.; Recollections of Sir George Harvey (privately printed, 1888); Trans. Royal Society of Edinburgh, vols. vi. ix.]

J. M. G.