Dean Cemetery and the Royal Scottish Academy

Posted on 31 May 2020

In the first of our guest Academician blogs, Honorary Academician and renowned Scottish art historian Murdo Macdonald reflects on the many ties between the RSA and one of Edinburgh’s most tranquil and beautiful cemeteries.

Visiting Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh always moves me, in part no doubt because I was born in the Elsie Inglis Hospital and there Elsie Inglis has a simple Celtic cross marking her resting place. But I want to reflect on another aspect here. Close to Elsie Inglis’s grave is a more ornate Celtic cross marking the grave of the classicist and cultural revivalist John Stuart Blackie.


James Archer RSA (1823-1904), Professor John Stuart Blackie HRSA (1809-95), oil on canvas. Royal Scottish Academy collections


Blackie was an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, as I am, and I want to explore a few of Dean Cemetery’s many links to the Royal Scottish Academy. The architect of the Academy and National Gallery buildings on the Mound, William Henry Playfair, is buried here. So also is James Drummond in a simple classical tomb that might have come out of a Poussin. Nearby is a cross that Drummond designed for the grave of an antiquarian, which draws on his knowledge the West Highland School of Sculpture.


James Drummond, plate from his printed volume Sculptured Monuments in Iona and the Western Highlands. RSA library


Wandering, you come across the graves of other Academicians – Edward Arthur Walton, George Paul Chalmers, Joseph Noel Paton, Sam Bough (complete with a beautiful cast bronze palette), Harry Gamley, etc. – but there is one corner of the cemetery which is particularly associated with the Royal Scottish Academy. There D. O. Hill, the guide of the Academy as its secretary in its early years, is buried. His grave is marked with a bronze bust sculpted by his wife Amelia.


Amelia Robertson Paton Hill (1821-1904), Monument to David Octavius Hill RSA (1802-70)


A few yards behind that finely modelled head is the grave-marker of David Scott. It is a pointed pillar covered with Celtic patterns, with near its peak an inset bronze portrait in high relief by the Inverness-born Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro.


Alexander Munro (1825-71), Monument to David Scott RSA (1806-49)


It is one of Munro’s least known but most expressive works. The monument was designed in 1860 by David Scott’s brother, William Bell Scott. Close by is a reminder of more recent times, the grave of John Bellany, who is commemorated in a slab of figured travertine engraved with his flowing signature. Dean Cemetery never fails to reward the visitor.


The gravestone of John Bellany HRSA, with D O Hill in the background