Peter Graham ARSA 1836-1921
Elected ARSA: 14 November 1860
Dr. Peter Graham was born in Edinburgh in 1836. His father, an Accountant, died when the future landscape painter was still in infancy. The boy was precocious, and at school showed marked ability in more than one direction; but whilst still a youth his passion for Art prevailed, and he entered as a pupil at the Trustees’ School of Design where he was one of the brilliant band moulded by the teaching and personality of Robert Scott Lauder.
As early as 1855 Graham contributed to the Academy’s Exhibition a figure picture—“The Nettle Sting,” and during the remainder of that decade, and in the earlier sixties, his pictures give little indication of the genre with which he was afterwards to be so prominently associated.
Indeed, with the exhibition in 1862 of “Fra Angelico,” a realistic study of the sainted Florentine Monk in prayer before his easel, it seemed as if the die had been cast for the more personal phase of Historic Art, as the picture attracted great attention, and was purchased by the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. But the augury was premature, for one of the artist’s next year’s exhibits, “In the Highlands,” told decisively for Landscape.
This picture, a forecast of the larger canvas, “Spate in the Highlands,” exhibited three years later at the Royal Academy, was hailed as a new departure in Scottish Landscape painting, as practised by Thomson of Duddingston, Horatio M‘Culloch, Sir George Harvey and others.
For Hammerton’s encomium on the larger work in his Monograph on Landscape Art, “One of the most impressive pictures of Highland scenery ever painted,” equally applies to the earlier canvas, combining, as it did, the same fresher outlook on nature with a masterly and dramatic composition, and showing the same break-away from the bituminous technique of the time.
During the year or two preceding his settlement in London, Dr. Graham’s more notable contributions to the Academy were “Twilight after Rain,” unique as being lowland in character; “Ruins of other Times,” a forest of withered and stricken pines on a desolate heath; and “Culloden Moor.”
Graham’s settlement in the south brought him an immense popularity, but though be is no longer an annual contributor, from time to time important examples of his work appear in our Exhibition, mostly borrowed from Southern Collectors. “On the Way to the Cattle Tryst” was thus shown in 1870, and “Our Northern Walls” five years later.
These two pictures may be said to forecast the trend of Graham’s future practice. The title of the last named is indelibly associated with the numerous pictures in which he has dealt with the haunts of the sea-mew and cormorant on our stormy northern coasts; the other with those in which Highland cattle are depicted in their picturesque surroundings of shaggy heath and rising mists.
A notable canvas, “A Rainy Day in a Scotch Village,” belongs to this period, and, so far as subject is concerned, it stands apart amongst the painter’s work. For twenty-five years Mr, Graham, though he was necessarily much in Scotland, had no permanent residence north of the Tweed, but in 1891 he settled in St. Andrews. which thereafter was his headquarters.
Coming of a highly cultured family, Graham was from his earliest years interested in the kindred Arts, and especially in music, in which he had some skill as a performer, both vocal and instrumental, which only his preoccupation with his own Art prevented his further developing.
His early proficiency in Scholarship is evidenced by his having, at the age of fifteen, acted as a tutor to boys httle if at all his juniors, and his literary leanings by his life-long love of books, in which his taste was catholic.
With such tastes and inclinations Mr. Graham found St. Andrews eminently congenial, and those affinities, as well as his reputation as an artist, were recognised when in 1902 the oldest of our Universities conferred on him its degree of LL.D. Dr. Graham had been elected Associate of the Scottish Academy in 1860, but on attaining that rank in the Royal Academy, he resigned the earlier honour, as he felt he would be unable to fulfil the obligations it involved, and in 1877 he was elected an Honorary Member.
His Royal Academy Associateship dates from that year, and in 1881 he was elected to premier rank. Dr. Graham was at the date of his death on the list of Senior Academicians recently instituted by the Royal Academy. He died at his residence, Westoun, St. Andrews, after a few days’ illness, on the 18th October.
Transcribed from the 1921 RSA Annual Report