Elected RSA: 7 October 1829

‘John Graham Gilbert, R.S.A., was born in Glasgow in 1794. His father was a West India merchant, and had resolved that his son should enter his business ; but the young man, though for a time he attended his father’s counting-house, was resolved to be an artist; and studied so diligently, and gave such decided proof of talent, that he was ultimately permitted to follow the path which he had marked out for himself. In 1818 he went to London, and was admitted a student of the Royal Academy, and there the opinions which had been formed of his merit were amply confirmed ; for in 1819 he gained the silver medal for the best drawing from the antique, and in 1821 the gold medal for the best historical painting in oil.


Graham now followed out his studies in Italy, where he remained two years. In 1827 he commenced as a portrait-painter in Edinburgh, was eminently successful, and soon had numerous sitters, many of them distinguished for talent, rank, and beauty ; in depicting the last of these qualities, in particular, he justly acquired a high reputation, He was constantly at work, and filled up any spare time he had between his sittings for portraits, by painting female figures with Italian costume, or Scottish peasant girls, to all of which he imparted much grace fulness, united with rich and glowing colouring. His residence in Edinburgh extended to about six or seven years ; and during that period he sent to the Exhibitions there no less than 58  pictures—39 portraits and 19 fancy figures.


In 1830 he was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and was, during his whole career, a strong supporter of the Exhibitions of that body, by whom his works were held in high estimation. In 1834 he married the niece of Mr. Gilbert of Yorkhill, and settled in Glasgow. Graham had a fine feeling for colour, regulated by truth to nature; he never aimed at striking combinations of colour or great richness of effect, but laboured earnestly to embody, and succeeded in giving truthfully the warmth and delicacy of the carnation tints which add so much beauty to the human form.


He studied carefully the works of the old painters, particularly those of the Venetian school, and had formed a collection, in which were some good works by his favourite masters. He had the true feeling of an artist. This is proved by his devotedness to art ; for though possessed of most ample means, instead of resting from his art labours in his latter years, or following the pursuits of men of fashion and fortune, he continued at his easel to the last.’


RSA Obituary, transcribed from 1866 RSA Annual Report

Further Images

John Graham-Gilbert RSA (1794-1866), The Bandit's Bride

oil on canvas, 1866  121.9 x 97.2cm

Gifted by Mrs Graham-Gilbert, 1867. 1992.036