Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Swinton, James Rannie

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SWINTON, JAMES RANNIE (1816–1888), portrait-painter, born on 11 April 1816, was younger son of John Campbell Swinton of Kimmerghame, Berwickshire, and Catherine Rannie, his wife, and grandson of Archibald, fourth son of John Swinton of Swinton, Berwickshire. He was intended for the legal profession, but, having a strong taste for art, he was allowed in 1838 to adopt the profession of an artist. At Edinburgh Sir William Allan [q. v.] and Sir John Watson-Gordon [q. v.] gave him much encouragement, and in the latter's studio he was allowed to work. He studied at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, and his first essays in portraiture were made in January 1839. In April of that year he went to London, where he was welcomed by Sir David Wilkie [q. v.] and (Sir) Francis Grant (1803–1878) [q. v.] In 1840 he was admitted to the schools of the Royal Academy, and in the same year went to Italy, where he remained for about three years, also visiting Spain. At Rome he found many sitters, and laid the foundation of his subsequent popularity as a portrayer of the fashionable beauties of his day; among those who sat to him at Rome were the Countess Grosvenor, Lady Canning, the Countess of Dufferin, and Lady Charlotte Bury. On his return to London he settled in Berners Street, and soon assumed the position of the most fashionable portrait-painter of the day. Nearly every fashionable beauty sat to him. His portraits were chiefly life-sized, boldly executed but graceful crayon drawings, although many of them were completed subsequently in oils, and frequently at full-length. A large portrait group of the three beautiful Sheridan sisters, the Countess of Dufferin, the Hon. Mrs. Norton, and the Duchess of Somerset, is in the possession of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. Swinton also drew and painted the portraits of eminent men with great success, among them being Louis Napoleon (afterwards Napoleon III), Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the Duke of Argyll, Lord Canning, Bishop (afterwards Archbishop) Tait, Lord Dufferin, and others, a full-length of Colonel Probyn being considered especially successful. Swinton exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy in 1844, and his portraits were familiar objects there for thirty years. Swinton was dependent on the vagaries of fashion for his vogue as a portrait-painter, and his portraits quickly lost their repute, although they will always retain their value as historical memorials. Swinton died at his residence in Harrington Gardens, South Kensington, on 18 Dec. 1888. He married, on 23 July 1865, Blanche Arthur Georgina, daughter of the twentieth Lord de Ros, but left no children.

A drawing by Swinton of Mrs. Mary Somerville [q. v.], executed in 1848, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

Archibald Campbell Swinton (1812–1890), elder brother of the above, was born on 15 July 1812, and educated at the Edinburgh Academy with Archibald Campbell Tait [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, and at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities. Joining the Scottish bar, he acquired a large practice and initiated an important reform in the system of reporting criminal trials. In 1852 he was elected professor of civil law in Edinburgh University, his lectures being largely attended. He resigned the professorship on succeeding in 1872 to the Kimmerghame estate, and devoted himself to political work. He served on various royal commissions, and by his oratorical powers and legal knowledge won a foremost place as a layman in the general assembly of the church of Scotland. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the conservative interest for the parliamentary representation of Haddington Burghs in 1852 and of the universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews in 1869. He died on 27 Nov. 1890, having married, first, Katherine, daughter of Sir John Pringle of Stitchell, bart., and secondly, Georgina Caroline, daughter of Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw, bart. Besides a lecture on ‘Men of the Merse’ (privately printed, Edinburgh, 1858, 8vo), Swinton published a family history entitled ‘The Swintons of that Ilk and their Cadets’ (Edinburgh, 1883, 8vo), which had originally been contributed in 1878 to the ‘Proceedings of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club’ (information supplied by the bishop of Winchester; Times, 6 Dec. 1890).

[Private information.]

L. C.