Elected ARSA: 10 November 1869
Elected RSA: 10 February 1876
George Hay was born on 21st June 1831 at Green Tree House, Leith Walk, in which neighbourhood his father, Mr. Peter Hay, carried on his business of silk dyer. Leith Walk has long ceased to be associated with such rural amenities as the name of the artist’s birthplace implies, but in those days, and for long afterwards, a considerable stretch of country intervened between Edinburgh and Leith.
Mr. Hay, after passing through the classes at the High School of Edinburgh, was apprenticed to Mr. Alexander Black, Architect, where he was for some years associated with his lifelong friend and brother Academician Mr. Hugh Cameron. His inclinations, however, were towards a different branch of art. At the Trustees Academy, where he studied drawing under Robert Scott Lauder, Mr. Hay made the acquaintance of many other artists who have since made a name for themselves, and for the Scottish School, both here and in London. He also studied modelling at the Watt School of Art, under Mr. Gourlay Steell.
Mr. Hay’s name first appears in the Academy catalogue for 1856. Then and for two or three years thereafter he is represented by one picture only, and the subjects are not such as we associate with Mr. Hay’s art; indeed it is not till the early sixties that he seems to find his méderin such works as “Money Lender and Victim,” 1862; “A Barber’s Shop in the time of Elizabeth,’1864;“Raleigh’s Disciples,’ 1865; “The Spae Wife,” 1875; and not till the close of that decade does there appear the first of those illustrations of the humours of Scott, “ Ritchie Moniplies in Fleet Street,” which we specially associate with Mr, Hay’s talent.
This was followed later by the kindred subjects “Caleb Balderston’s Ruse” and “ Peter Peebles capturing Allan Fairford,’ which may be said to have established his popularity with the public. More sombre themes were not awanting, and such works as “The Haunted Chamber” and “The Warrant, 1745,” provided an appropriate foil for the lighter vein of the better-known series.
On the technical side Mr. Hay’s subjects were often rendered with a daintiness of touch and delicacy of colour scheme which harmonised well with the work in hand.
Elected an Associate in 1863, and a full member of the Academy in 1876, Mr. Hay was appointed Secretary in 1881. He held that office under four Presidents, and only demitted its duties in 1907, on which occasion, at a Private View of the Exhibition, and in presence of the Lord Provost Magistrates, and Town Council of the city, he was presented by his fellow-members with a piece of silver plate and a purse of sovereigns in recognition of his long and faithful services. At the same date he became an Honorary retired Academician.
In his younger days Mr. Hay was an enthusiastic volunteer. Amongst the first to join No. 1 (Artists’ Company) of the Edinburgh City Artillery, then under the command of Captain Noél Paton, he rose through the various grades, till during the later years of his service, he was in command of the company. Mr. Hay, who had reached his eighty-second year, died on 31st August.
RSA Obituary, transcribed from 1912 RSA Annual Report