Elected ARSA: 13 November 1878

Elected RSA: 10 February 1882 

By the death of Robert Gibb, Painter and Limner to the King for Scotland, there has passed from our midst the last of the members of the Academy, resident in Scotland, elected under the original Charter of 1838. Mr. Gibb’s talent developed early, and early it received Academic recognition.


He was elected Associate in 1878, the year he exhibited the first of his series of war pictures, ‘“Comrades,”’ and four years later, following the exhibition of his great work, ‘‘ The Thin Red Line,” he was elected Academician at the early age of thirty-seven. Thus for a number of years prior to his death Mr. Gibb was doyen of the Academy, of which he was ultimately a full member for fifty years, a rare, but not unique achievement, Sir John Steell holding the record, one never likely to be broken, of sixty-two years.


These two war pictures and the ‘“ Retreat from Moscow,” 1879, were followed at intervals by others, “Alma” in 1889, ‘Saving the Colours” in 1900, ‘“Hougoumont ” in 1903, ‘“ Dargai” in 1909, and, in- spired by the Great War, ‘‘Communion at the Front ”’ and ‘‘ Backs to the Wall,” in both of which the spiritual powers behind the merely material are shadowed forth. While it is by such popular works that Mr. Gibb holds the high place he won in the estimation of the general public, they by no means constituted the bulk of his production.


In addition to an exceptionally wide range of genre pictures, portraiture occupied a large place in his life work, and he received many commissions to paint presentation portraits, amongst others, Charles Murray Barstow for the Chartered Accountants, J. Knox Crawford for the S.8.C. Society, Rev. James Morrison, D.D., for the Congregational Church Hall, Glasgow, Harry Young, Esq., of Cleish for the County Hall, Kinross, Rev. George Smeaton, D.D., and the Rev. Thomas Kennedy, D.D., Moderator, both for the United Free Church College, Edinburgh, Rev. Joseph Parker, D.D., for the City Temple Church Offices, London, J. Shiress Will, Q.C., and Sir Francis Webster, both for the County Buildings, Arbroath, and Dr. Lowe for Heriot’s Hospital, Kdinburgh.


Other notable men whose portraits he painted were H. M. Stanley, the African explorer, and Sir Arthur Halkett of Pitfirrane, Bart., who is seen as a young officer carrying the Colours of the 42nd High- landers in the ‘‘Alma”’ picture, and from whom the artist received much guidance in the material facts of the episode.


An accomplished and painstaking draughtsman, Gibb was ever most careful about the accuracy of every accessary to his subject, and was infinitely patient in his search for the proper type of model and for authoritative examples of the accoutrements in his military pictures.


In 1911 he spent several months in Egypt making sketches and studies in pursuit of local colour and setting for a great religious picture he had in contemplation, associated with the sojourn of Israel in Egypt, but which was never carried beyond the stage of the black and white cartoon. This faithfulness in drawing and colour made his appointment in 1908 as Painter and Limner to the King for Scotland peculiarly appropriate.


He was the fifth in succession to Sir Henry Raeburn, the first to hold the office for a few months before his death in 1823. Mr. Gibb’s pride in the Royal Scottish Academy, his devotion to its interests, and jealousy for its good name amounted almost to a religion. He contributed of his best to its Exhibitions with unfailing regularity, and was Convener of the Painting Section of the Committee of Arrangement which collected and hung the pictures in the Centenary Exhibition of 1926.

Nor must record be omitted of the great service he rendered to the National Gallery in recasting and rehanging that Collection and preparing an illustrated catalogue during the twelve years in which he held the post of Keeper, 1895-1907.


He initiated that cultured outlook in the acquisition and disposition of the pictures which has since been maintained and intensified, making the Scottish National Gallery perhaps the most attractive of its size in Europe. Possessed of an amiable and gentle disposition, of a courteous and cheerful manner, Mr. Gibb was much loved and highly esteemed in his life, and in his death left not a single enemy behind.


Transcribed from the 1932 RSA Annual Report

Further Images

Robert Gibb RSA (1845-1932), The Sea King

Oil on canvas, 1882, 91.4 x 114.3cm

RSA Diploma Collection (Deposited, 1882) 2000.015