Williams, Hugh William (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, HUGH WILLIAMS (1773–1829), landscape-painter, the only child of Captain Williams by his wife, a daughter of Colonel Lewis, deputy-governor of Gibraltar, was born in 1773 on board his father's ship during a voyage to the West Indies. Losing both parents at an early age, he was brought up by his maternal grandmother and her second husband, Louis Ruffini, a member of an old Turin family, at Craigside House, Edinburgh. His grandfather, discovering his talent, encouraged him to become a painter. For some years he painted highland landscape, and in 1811–12 he published six large engravings of scenes in the north, while many of his early topographical drawings appeared in the ‘Scots Magazine;’ but an extended tour in Italy and Greece, from which he returned in 1818, gave his work its particular character, and earned him the name, ‘Grecian Williams,’ by which he is familiarly known. An account of his travels, in two octavo volumes, appeared in 1820. Written in the form of letters, and dedicated to John Thomson (1778–1840) [q. v.] of Duddingston, the avowed intention of the work was not to enter into disquisitions upon archæology and history, but to describe the countries, scenery, and peoples as they appeared to him. The illustrations were engraved by Lizars from drawings by the author. In 1822 Williams held an exhibition of watercolours, also the result of his tour, which attracted much attention and was greatly applauded by the critics of the day. Depicting as they did the splendid ruins and famous scenes of Greek history, they fell in with the taste of the time, and the catalogue teems with quotations from the classics and the great English poets. Between 1827 and 1829 his ‘Select Views in Greece’ appeared in numbers, each containing six plates. Although he painted a few oil pictures, his principal and more characteristic work was executed in watercolour, which he handled in broad washes of transparent colour over a carefully drawn pencil design. In the National Gallery of Scotland he is represented by between twenty and thirty typical examples, and in the historical collection at South Kensington by five drawings, three of which are dated before 1807, and represent his earlier style. Williams was an original member of the Associated Artists in Watercolour (1808), and an associate of the Royal Institution, Edinburgh; but towards the end of his life he took a great interest in the proposed amalgamation of the Scottish Academy and the artist associates of the institution, an arrangement which was completed a month after his death.

Shortly after his return from the East he married Miss Miller of Garnock, a wealthy lady of good family, and moved in the best Edinburgh society, where he was exceedingly popular. Professor Wilson in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ makes the ‘Shepherd’ say of Williams: ‘As for the man himsel’, I like to look on him, for he's gotten a gran' bald phrenological head, the face o' him 's at ance good-natured and intelligent; and o' a' the painters I ken, his mainners seems to be the maist the mainners o' a gentleman and a man o' the world;’ and Lord Cockburn speaks of him as warm-hearted and honourable, of singular modesty and almost feminine gentleness. He died on 23 June 1829.

A portrait of Williams by W. J. Thomson, R.S.A., was engraved by C. Thomson and published in 1827, and that by Sir Henry Raeburn is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

[Private information; Edinburgh Annual Register, 1816; Lockhart's Peter's Letters, 1819; Edinburgh Magazine, 1822; Noctes Ambrosianæ, 1827; Lord Cockburn's Memorials, 1854; Henley's A Century of Artists, Glasgow, 1889; Redgrave's and Bryan's Dictionaries; Catalogues Edinburgh Exhibitions, 1808–16, Scottish National Gallery, South Kensington Museum.]

J. L. C.