Elected ARSA: 11 November 1835

Elected HRSA: 1854

The Academy had officially laid before them the mournful announcement of the death of William Dyce, Esq., R.A., formerly an Associate, and latterly an Honorary Member of this Academy, the event having taken place on the 14th day of February, Mr. Dyce being in his fifty-eighth year. The Academy received this intelligence with the deepest feelings of sorrow and regret, as they have thus to record the removal, at a comparatively early age, of one of the most remarkable men connected with the Art of the present century ; of one whose learning, accomplishments, genius, and artistic power would have secured for their possessor a distinguished place in the Art annals of any country or period.


Enjoying the advantage of a thorough literary training in the University of his native city (Aberdeen), of which he was a distinguished alumnus, and holding the degree of Master of Arts, he at an early period of his Art education, gave himself, with an ardent professional ambition, to an earnest study of the Great Masters, ancient and modern, both in this country and the Continent : acquiring a profound knowledge of their principles, imbibing much of their spirit, acquiring a mastery of their technical processes, and a felicitous excellence of manipulative power,—a combination of high qualities, which distinguished his future productions.  Thus,  whether in portraiture, genre, historical, or sacred subjects, and whether executed in charcoal or crayon, water-colour, tempera, or oil-painting, his works are distinguished by a rare mastery in the conception, as in the technical execution.


 His learning and energy, exercised in connexion with the Royal Commission for Fine Arts, under the presidency of His Royal Highness the lamented Prince Consort, with whom Mr. Dyce had the honour of much confidential and familiar intercourse, were greatly instrumental in causing the revival of the art of fresco painting in this country, and its adoption as a means of mural decoration in the new Palace of Westminster and elsewhere. In the skilful exercise of this difficult branch of Art he was considered by many to occupy the first place ace among British artists.


His fine work ‘The Baptism of Ethelbert,’ in the chief central panel of the magnificent chamber of the House of Lords; the incomplete series in the Queen’s Robing-Room, illustrative of the ‘Virtues of Chivalry,’ from the ‘Morted’ Arthur;’ and the pictures on the walls of the Church of All Saints, London, may be adduced as evidencing his mastery in this, a walk of art demanding the highest powers for its successful exercise.


“It is due to the professional reputation of Mr. Dyce, from a Scottish Academy of Art, emphatically to state in this brief record, that at a period considerably anterior to the munificent resolution of certain noblemen and gentlemen of the west of Scotland, to adorn the windows of the Glasgow Cathedral with pictures in stained glass, he, Mr. Dyce, had given the most satisfying evidence of the power of British Art to supply all the requirements of what might and should have proved a great national work.


“This sufficing evidence is to be found in Mr. Dyce’s famous Cartoon, the design for the late Duke of Northumberland’s memorial window in the Church of Saint Peter’s at Alnwick. This great work, worthy to have been produced by the greatest artist of the greatest period of Art, was executed by Mr. Dyce, of the full size of the intended window, painted in transparent oil-colours, every portion of the composition being thoroughly studied and detailed, with 4 view to its being reproduced by the glass-Stainer in exact facsimile.


 Nothing in the mode of reproduction was left to the mere discretion of the workman. Mr. Dyce adopted a theory of colour and a mode of execution which he knew would ensure that essential element of a fine stained window, namely, splendour of effect and true brilliance of colour,—qualities in which the comparatively vapid productions in this art of the German school are confessedly so defective. The immense superiority of Mr. Dyce’s method of preparing the Cartoon for the purpose of the glass-stainer, was made apparent to the visitors of the Exhibition of Art Treasures in this city in 1861.


The Alnwick Cartoon was then seen in close juxtaposition with the Cartoons produced by the experienced and eminent Professor Hesse of Munich, the designs for the window of the Glasgow Cathedral, presented by His Grace the late Duke of Hamilton, and which his designs were confessedly the best of the Glasgow series. Beautiful, as in some respects those works of the eminent German were admitted to be, they were not once to be named in point of excellence with the effort of the Scottish artist, either in mental conception, in learned arrangement of colour, in masterly execution, and in all the technical requirements to ensure splendour of effect in the window to be reproduced from it.


 The latter part of this averment received a curious but ample corroboration in the window at Alnwick. It was Mr. Dyce’s wish and intention that it should have been executed by an English glass-stainer, he having no doubt whatever that he knew several in the trade who could, under his direction and guidance, reproduce his design in all its integrity. Circumstances, however, which he could not control, induced those to whom the matter was intrusted to send the Cartoon to be translated into glass-painting at Munich.


Thus the Alnwick window was painted by German hands in Germany, but the result was a brilliance unknown in the best productions de-signed in that country. This effect is to be attributed to the theory and arrangement of colour, and method of execution, which Mr.

Dyce, with admirable knowledge and skill, employed in this, his first serious effort in designing for glass painting. His method, new to the Germans, they were not permitted to deviate from, hence the production of a window brilliant and beautiful, and free from the besetting serious faults—the transparent, calico-looking thinness of modern German glass-staining.


“The contributions of Mr. Dyce to the Art literature of his country have had no small influence on the progress of the national Art. The scheme which he originated and matured for the improvement and extension of the School of Design in Edinburgh, in 1831, effected much, and would have been much more thorough and comprehensive had he been permitted by the patron of his scheme to develop his whole plan, which, it is due to Mr. Dyce to state, contemplated at that early period, the Royal Scottish Academy being placed in a proper position for the discharge of certain important public functions. Mr. Dyce was at this period  induced by the Government to launch and conduct on similar principles the then infant School of Design in London, and schools of a like nature were also gradually extended to the provinces.


The present system of the National  Schools of Art are the offshoot of Mr. Dyce’s far-seeing mind, and it is believed that very much of what is vital and excellent in the system which guides the direction of those schools, emanates from the profound knowledge of principles, and from the administrative ability he infused into them.


“In the year 1846, the President and Secretary of this Academy were formally, but confidentially, invited by a leading member of the Government, to give him their views as to the ideal of a School of Fine Art for Edinburgh, using such materials as Edinburgh could command. Knowing how deeply Mr. Dyce had given his philosophic and practical mind to the study of this great national question, the Secretary, with the President's approbation, wrote to Mr. Dyce, asking him to favour them with his views.


The result was contained in a series of letters addressed to the Secretary, produced with a great amount of thought and labour, in which the writer went minutely into the whole subject of the teaching of Art as regards the higher walks of the profession, and its close affinity with that teaching of Art necessary for all classes of decorative artists and artisans. These letters, on the request of the member of the government above referred to, were privately printed for his move convenient reference, and a few copies thus got into private circulation ;

and the views of the author have been frequently quoted as high authority in various public documents.


“As was his wish in his previous Scottish Paper on Art Education, he, though removed from the seat of the Royal Scottish Academy and its operations, dwelt strongly upon the services to Art education which it might be made to render to the country in aiding to carry a scheme, such as he proposed, into effect.


“ With a knowledge of services so eminent to his country, and of a feeling so warm towards the Academy, regarding which the instances mentioned rather indicate the nature than the amount, it cannot but be remembered that those, and many other touching instances of Mr. Dyce’s deep interest in the prosperity of the Institution, were always rendered with a modesty almost amounting to shyness, and with a seeming unconsciousness of conferring obligations.


Of benefits conferred, not as yet referred to, the Academy cannot at present forget his gifts to their collection of his masterly Cartoons of St. Peter and St. Andrew; his desire, on hearing of the admiration his Cartoon for the Alnwick window excited among the members of the Academy, and their desire to know if it might be purchased for their collection- procure it for them as a gift; and, last of all, his occasional contribution of his works to the Annual Exhibition, of which the last and best, ‘St. John bringing Home his adopted Mother after the Crucifixion,’ is most worthy to be held in the lasting remembrance of all who be held it.


“The Academy, in directing this Minute, commemorative of Mr Dyce’s genius and services to Art, to be inscribed on their Records, and that a copy thereof be sent, with the most respectful and profound expression of their sorrow and sympathy with Mrs. Dyce, desire, before leaving the subject, to give expression to the feelings of satisfaction they have received at this meeting, from the announcement by the Council that they had secured, by purchase, with two hundred guineas placed at their disposal by the Academy, Mr. Dyce’s picture of ‘Francesca da Rimini,’ believed to be his best work in oils executed by him before ultimately leaving Scotland as a permanent residence; and from the letter of John Goodsir, Esq., the very eminent Professor of Anatomy in the Edinburgh University, in which that gentleman conveys as a gift to the Academy an exquisite coloured Cartoon in tempera of ‘The Judgment of Solomon,’ also by Mr. Dyce, and characterized by much of his excellent art. This picture, with the two Cartoons, ‘St. Peter’ and ‘St. Andrew,’ already mentioned as presented by Mr. Dyce, will continue to present to the eyes and minds of his countrymen, several phases of his many-sided genius.’


 RSA Obituary, transcribed from 1864 RSA Annual Report