Adam Skirving

M, #473821, b. 1719, d. 19 April 1803
Last Edited=29 May 2015
     Adam Skirving was born in 1719 at Haddington, East Lothian, ScotlandG.1,2 He was the son of Archibald Skirving and Grizel Howdan.3 He married Jean Ainslie on 25 November 1748 at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, ScotlandG.2 He married Christian Carnegie on 18 March 1768 at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, ScotlandG.2 He died on 19 April 1803.2 He was buried at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, ScotlandG.1
     He was Farmer; Scottish songwriter.

Children of Adam Skirving and Jean Ainslie

Children of Adam Skirving and Christian Carnegie

Citations

  1. [S130] Wikipedia, online http;//www.wikipedia.org, as at 22 March 2008. Hereinafter cited as Wikipedia.
  2. [S309] Ancestry.com, online http://www.ancestry.com. Hereinafter cited as Ancestry.com.
  3. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Jean Ainslie

F, #473822, b. circa 1722, d. ?
Last Edited=7 Apr 2008
     Jean Ainslie was born circa 1722. She married Adam Skirving, son of Archibald Skirving and Grizel Howdan, on 25 November 1748 at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, ScotlandG.1 She died in ?.
     7345CA4EEAAE4A76B5AC2A80DE4F5A26E0D0. Her married name became Skirving.

Children of Jean Ainslie and Adam Skirving

Citations

  1. [S309] Ancestry.com, online http://www.ancestry.com. Hereinafter cited as Ancestry.com.
  2. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Christian Carnegie

F, #473823
Last Edited=29 May 2015
     Christian Carnegie married Adam Skirving, son of Archibald Skirving and Grizel Howdan, on 18 March 1768 at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, ScotlandG.1
     From 18 March 1768, her married name became Skirving.

Children of Christian Carnegie and Adam Skirving

Citations

  1. [S309] Ancestry.com, online http://www.ancestry.com. Hereinafter cited as Ancestry.com.
  2. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Magdalene Skirving

F, #473824
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Magdalene Skirving is the daughter of Adam Skirving and Christian Carnegie.1
     545ADD997B8048618882F119B0CCE7D11092.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Elizabeth Skirving

F, #473825, b. 1769, d. 1825
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Elizabeth Skirving was born in 1769. She was the daughter of Adam Skirving and Christian Carnegie.1 She died in 1825.
     CAFCF3985CC942B3864FD688837BBEAC06E2.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.


Janet Skirving

F, #473826, b. 1772, d. ?
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Janet Skirving was born in 1772. She was the daughter of Adam Skirving and Christian Carnegie.1 She died in ?.
     5C110FB4A4A044648F801BB7984D27020B35.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Archibald Skirving

M, #473827, b. October 1749, d. 19 May 1819
Last Edited=27 Jul 2011
     Archibald Skirving was born in October 1749 at East Garleton Farm, Athelstaneford, Haddington, East Lothian, ScotlandG.1,2 He was the son of Adam Skirving and Jean Ainslie.3 He died on 19 May 1819 at age 69 at Inveresk, Musselburgh, Midlothian, ScotlandG.2 He was buried at Athelstaneford churchyard, Haddington, East Lothian, ScotlandG.2
     He was Artist. Skirving travelled to Italy in 1786 and worked in Rome for seven years. According to another Scottish visitor, Skirving took 'so much time and bestows so much labour in finishing his pieces that he can never do much' .
__

Following is the biography of Archibald Skirving from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Skirving, Archibald (1749–1819), portrait artist, the eldest son of the farmer and Jacobite balladeer Adam Skirving (bap. 1719, d. 1803) and his first wife, Jean Ainslie (bap. 1722), was born at East Garleton Farm, Athelstaneford, near Haddington, in October 1749. Adam Skirving was a tenant farmer on the Charteris-Wemyss estate, then based at Amisfield House, near Haddington, and later at Gosford House, near Longniddry. Archibald Skirving was educated at the local school in Athelstaneford and, according to the writer Henry Mackenzie and the art critic George Cleghorn, at the age of eighteen he was found a job by his father as a junior clerk in the Edinburgh customs office. He began to paint miniatures and oil portraits at this time. Key early works, datable to c.1770, are the masterly miniature of his father (Lloyd, 13, fig. 1) as well as the pair of oils of his parents and the youthful Self-Portrait (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Lloyd, 13 and 15, figs. 2–3 and 5). An autograph variant of the portrait of his father also survives (Scot. NPG). The miniature is notable for its virtuoso technique and penetrating characterization, both aspects of Skirving's later pastels and drawings. The oils are painted in a more conventional manner, strongly influenced by the style of Allan Ramsay. At this time it is likely that Skirving studied at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, where Charles Pavillon was master from 1768 to 1772. During this first Edinburgh period he would have been in direct competition as a miniaturist with Henry Raeburn, seven years his junior.

In 1777 Skirving, like many other Scottish artists, moved to London. He had various letters of introduction, including one to John Hamilton Mortimer, the noted painter of conversation pieces. Skirving exhibited his work only once at the Royal Academy during this period. In 1778, described as a miniature painter, he displayed ‘a frame with three miniatures’. The exhibition catalogue listed his address or lodgings as ‘at Mrs Milward's, Little Brook Street, Hanover Square’. His delicately painted Unknown Lady (V&A; Lloyd, 16, fig. 9) is signed and dated 1780.

Skirving must have found it difficult to establish himself in London, as he was back in Edinburgh during the mid-1780s, when he was working on John Hume and Mrs Lockhart. He was also beginning to create portraits in pastels or crayons, including his first known rendition in this medium: Catherine Hume of Ninewells, Later Mrs Robert Johnston of Hutton Hall (NG Scot.) Made c.1784–6, this portrait of David Hume's niece is an exuberant study of a fashionable woman, and is notable for its high-keyed colouring and lively characterization. Finding it difficult also to make a successful career in Edinburgh, Skirving decided to study in Rome, like many other Scottish artists before him. He left Leith by boat on 30 November 1786, and did not return until 1795. Primarily based in Rome, Skirving seems to have been supported by his father's landlord, the Hon. Francis Charteris of Amisfield, styled seventh earl of Wemyss from 1787, or by his only son, styled Viscount Elcho. The latter visited Rome with his family in late 1789, where he and his eldest son, later restored as sixth earl of Wemyss, both sat to Skirving in January 1790 for their portraits in pastel (priv. coll.) Skirving also demonstrated his prowess both as a pastellist and as a portrait miniaturist by producing outstanding self-portraits in both media (Scot. NPG), in which he explored subtle changes of mood in the use of the shadow cast on his brow by a wide-brimmed black beaver-fur hat.

While in Rome, Skirving also portrayed in a notably lucid pastel his fellow Scottish artist Gavin Hamilton (1788–9; Scot. NPG), as well as making crayon and black chalk portraits in 1791 of the sculptor John Flaxman (both York City Art Gallery). He also studied and copied classical sculpture, and made a series of delicate landscape drawings of scenes around Rome (NG Scot.) One of his best-known drawings is from this date, the dispassionate yet witty triple portrait Unknown Family (1792; priv. coll; Lloyd frontispiece), a rare image of a British family on the grand tour. Like other artists in Rome, Skirving supplemented his income by acting as an art dealer and agent, in this case for the wealthy retired Scottish judge Francis Garden, Lord Gardenstone.

Skirving departed from Rome on 22 May 1794, but on 4 August he was taken prisoner by the French at sea off Gibraltar, and was imprisoned in Brest as a spy. After months of brutal incarceration, during which he suffered serious eye problems, Skirving was released thanks to the efforts of two fellow artists still in Italy, James Smith and Jean-Bernard Duvivier. They wrote to François Cacault, the French republican chargé d'affaires in Florence: ‘c'est artiste nous a toujours manifesté à Rome l'amour la plus grande pour la Révolution française’ (Ingamells, 863).

Having landed at Berwick upon Tweed on 12 August 1795, Skirving re-established himself in Edinburgh, purchasing a flat at 3 St James's Square. He also rented an unpretentious two-room studio nearby, at 12 Leith Street (or Terrace)—unusually without a showroom or gallery. He concentrated on producing a small number of very high-quality pastels, portraying only a limited clientele. Up to fifty sittings were sometimes required, and in some instances his fee rose to 100 guineas. To this unusual business practice Skirving added increasingly eccentric habits and frequently impolite behaviour, for which he became well known in Edinburgh society. His strange habits were noted by, among others, Thomas Carlyle, who described him as living ‘in complete Hermitage, an indignant but uncomplaining King, supreme sovereign there if nowhere else’ (Reminiscences, 133–4). Carlyle, who as a young man had met Skirving as an old man, was also aware, however, of the artist's unforgettable appearance, describing him ‘with brow, cheek, jaws, chin all betokening impetuosity, rapidity, delicacy and the stormy fire of genius not yet hidden under the ashes of old age’ (ibid., 136).

During the eight years from 1795, when Skirving returned to Edinburgh, until 1803, when he retired as a professional portraitist, he produced a small number of outstanding works in pastel. These include portraits of the judges Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (1798; priv. coll.), and William Craig, Lord Craig (Scot. NPG), as well as the mother of the writer John Wilson (Christopher North), Margaret Sym, Mrs John Wilson (Scot. NPG). Equally severe yet sympathetic are the portraits of James Boswell's cousin, the lawyer Robert Boswell of St Boswells (priv. coll.), and his half-sister Janet Skirving, Mrs James Carnegie of Edrom Newton (NG Scot.) Skirving's sensitivity as a portraitist of children is evident in the pastels of the teenager Henry Home Drummond, sixth laird of Blair Drummond and the unique full length of the young boy Robert Dundas of Arniston holding an owl (both priv. coll.) His portrait of the geologist, etcher, and naval theorist John Clerk of Eldin, signed and dated 1800 (but exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799) and the profoundly moving half length Unknown Lady, signed and dated 1803 (both priv. coll.) are equally sensitive portraits of elderly sitters.

Skirving's skill as a portrait draughtsman is also evident in his direct but subtle profile heads, drawn in red or black chalk. Very rarely he drew similar but unusual portraits in white chalk on mahogany panel, such as The Hon. Charles Napier of Merchiston, signed and dated 1800 (Glasgow Museums: Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove). During his own lifetime, and ever since, Skirving's most famous portrait has remained his luminous copy drawn in red chalk (‘keel’), after Alexander Nasmyth's small oil on panel of Robert Burns (both Scot. NPG). Sir Walter Scott admired this work, and described it in a letter of 30 May 1816 to the poet and collector Samuel Rogers—before Skirving took it to London in that year—as ‘the only good portrait of Burns’ (Letters, 4.243).

Skirving also occasionally painted oil portraits such as that of the pamphleteer the Revd Alexander Carlyle (Scot. NPG). As an old man he was clearly admired by some of the younger generation of Scottish artists. Raeburn portrayed him in oils (priv. coll., USA) for his gallery of eminent contemporaries in his studio at York Place, Edinburgh. Andrew Geddes also portrayed him in oils (NG Scot.) and in an etching, to which Skirving himself added drypoint. In addition George Watson painted two oil portraits of Skirving (Scot. NPG and East Lothian council museums service).

A small number of Skirving's portraits were reproduced as prints, including Robert Scott's stipple engraving Gavin Hamilton (1793), William Ward's pair of mezzotints Mr and Mrs Mark Sprot, John Beugo's line-engraving after the copy of Robert Burns, S. W. Reynolds's mezzotint John Clerk of Eldin (1800), and George Dawe's mezzotint The Hon. William Craig (1801), as well as the posthumous mezzotint by Charles Turner Francis Walker (1821) and a line and stipple engraving by Edward Scriven, John Rennie.

Skirving, who never married, spent the last part of his life with his sister Grace, living on her farm at Inveresk, just outside Musselburgh near Edinburgh. He died suddenly on 19 May 1819 leaving a substantial estate of just over £4000, partly indicating the extreme frugality with which he led his life. Skirving was buried in Athelstaneford churchyard in the same plot as his father and grandfather. His tombstone was inscribed with words composed by his brother Robert:

By peculiar excellence attained eminence
as a portrait painter;
and might have lived in affluence,
had he not aimed at private independence
by simplifying the comforts of common life.

Skirving's pastel portraits made during the period 1784–1803 in some respects constituted a challenge to Henry Raeburn, who at that time dominated the Scottish market for portraiture in oils. Skirving was the only major pastellist, apart from Catherine Read, to have worked in Scotland. After a first-ever exhibition of his work, held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1999, Skirving can now be seen as one of the finest European pastellists of the eighteenth century, worthy of comparison with Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Jean-Étienne Liotard, and Hugh Douglas Hamilton.

Stephen Lloyd

Sources

S. Lloyd, Raeburn's rival: Archibald Skirving, 1749–1819 (1999) [exhibition catalogue, Scot. NPG, 22 Jan – 5 Apr 1999] · T. Sundström, ‘Aspects of the life and work of Archibald Skirving (1749–1819)’, MPhil diss., U. St Andr., 1994 · B. C. Skinner, ‘Archibald Skirving and his work’, Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists' Society, 12 (1970), 46–56 · J. Ingamells, ed., A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy, 1701–1800 (1997) · The reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle: now first published, ed. J. Clubbe (Durham, North Carolina, 1974) · K. Andrews and J. R. Brotchie, Catalogue of Scottish drawings (1960) · Lord Gardenstone [F. Garden], Travelling memorandums, made in a tour upon the continent of Europe, in the years 1786, 87 & 88 (1791–5); 2nd edn, 3 vols. (1802) · H. Smailes, The concise catalogue of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1990) · The letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson and others, centenary edn, 12 vols. (1932–79) · Portrait drawings by Scottish artists, 1750–1850 (1955) [exhibition catalogue, Scot. NPG] · G. Cleghorn, Ancient and modern art (1837), 2nd edn, 2 vols. (1848) · The anecdotes and egotisms of Henry Mackenzie, 1745–1831: now first published, ed. H. W. Thompson (1927) · tombstone, Athelstaneford churchyard, near Haddington · IGI

Archives

NA Scot., estate papers, SC 70/1/19, fols. 540–44 · NL Scot., NLS Acc. 10102

Likenesses

A. Skirving, self-portrait, chalk drawing, 1790, Scot. NPG [see illus.] · A. Skirving, self-portrait, miniature, 1790, Scot. NPG · G. Watson, oils, 1800–1810, Scot. NPG · H. Raeburn, oils, c.1810, priv. coll. · A. Geddes, oils, 1815–1819, NG Scot; on loan to Scot. NPG · A. Geddes and A. Skirving, drypoint etching, 1815–1819, Scot. NPG

Wealth at death

over £4000: estate papers in Skirving MSS, NL Scot., NLS Acc. 10102.1,2

Citations

  1. [S328] National Galleries of Scotland, online http://www.nationalgalleries.org. Hereinafter cited as National Galleries of Scotland.
  2. [S18] Matthew H.C.G., editor, Dictionary of National Biography on CD-ROM (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1995), Stephen Lloyd, ‘Skirving, Archibald (1749–1819)’. Hereinafter cited as Dictionary of National Biography.
  3. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Katherine Skirving

F, #473828, b. 1751, d. ?
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Katherine Skirving was born in 1751. She was the daughter of Adam Skirving and Jean Ainslie.1 She died in ?.
     7F3500EF61364684B2FFEC414BF24F178579.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Menny Skirving

F, #473829, b. 1753, d. ?
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Menny Skirving was born in 1753. She was the daughter of Adam Skirving and Jean Ainslie.1 She died in ?.
     F96898CF382E4CE1A00E4E2FC22294C1BF6E.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.

Robert Skirving

M, #473830, b. 1757, d. ?
Last Edited=22 Mar 2008
     Robert Skirving was born in 1757. He was the son of Adam Skirving and Jean Ainslie.1 He died in ?.
     855CD423A4364A3BBB0B992F17AA2A5F0FBF.

Citations

  1. [S499] Andrew Thompson, online unknown url, Andrew Thompson (Australia), downloaded 6 July 2011.