James M Robert Greenlees (1820–1894) began working at the Glasgow School of Art as a pupil teacher, earning a small salary teaching elementary art classes part-time and pursuing his own studies and art when he was not teaching. He became the Second Master at the School and in 1863 was appointed headmaster, replacing Charles Heath Wilson, a role which he held until 1881.
He organised the relocation of the School from Ingram Street to the Corporation Buildings on Sauchiehall Street in 1868-1869, with the main entrance to the School at 3 Rose Street.
He advocated for the attendance of women pupils at Life Classes and employed women teachers at the School, including his daughter Georgina. Another of his innovations was the addition of ship drawing to the curriculum: in time, most of the designers working in Clyde shipyards were former Glasgow School of Art students. One of his pupils was the landscape artist Alexander Brownlie Docharty.
Greenlees worked as a stained glass artist and later as a landscape painter, working primarily in oil and watercolour. He was an early member of the West of Scotland Academy, and a founder member of the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters in Scotland. He specialised in West Highland subjects, typically woodland scenes with birch trees growing out of a carpet of ferns. His technical skill was impressive and he ranks as a very competent landscape painter.
Greenlees was a founder member of the Glasgow Art Club, and served as president from 1882-1883.