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Harvey, George

Sir George Harvey, RSA (1806-1876) was the son of George Harvey, a watchmaker, and Elizabeth Jeffrey and was born at 59 Main Street, St Ninians, near Stirling.

Soon after his birth his parents moved to Stirling, where George was apprenticed to Mr McLaren, a bookseller on Bow Street. His love for art having, however, become very decided, in his eighteenth year he entered the Trustees' Academy on Picardy Place in Edinburgh. Here he so distinguished himself that in 1826 he was invited by the Scottish artists, who had resolved to found a Scottish Academy, to join it as an associate

Harvey's first picture, "A Village School," was exhibited in 1826 at the Edinburgh Institution; and from the time of the opening of the Academy in the following year he continued annually to exhibit. Harvey is best known for his Scottish history painting and contemporary narrative scenes. 

Many of his subjects, designed to invite an emotional response, appear rather sentimental to modern viewers but were extremely popular when first exhibited. Harvey was a student of Sir William Allan's at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh. He followed Allan's example in his skilled draughtsmanship and detailed preparatory studies for his major compositions. His work also reflects Wilkie's influence.

He was, however, equally popular in Scotland for subjects not directly religious; and "The Bowlers," "A Highland Funeral," "The Curlers," "A Schule Skailin'," and "Children Blowing Bubbles in the Church-yard of Greyfriars', Edinburgh," manifest the same close observation of character, artistic conception and conscientious elaboration of details. In "The Night Mail" and "Dawn Revealing the New World to Columbus" the aspects of nature are, made use of in different ways, but with equal happiness, to lend impressiveness and solemnity to human concerns.

Harvey turned to landscapes when almost 60 and put much thought into their composition, although it has been said that they lack a certain largeness which adds dignity. He was undoubtedly a master at portraying the ’pensive charm and pastoral melancholy of the Highland Straths and the Lowland Hills with insight and sympathy which make recollections of his landscapes, a treasured possession’.

In 1829 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy; in 1864 he succeeded Sir John Watson Gordon as president, a role which he held until 1876. He was knighted in 1867.

He died at 21 Regent Terrace in Edinburgh on 22 January 1876. 

He is buried in Warriston Cemetery against the east wall, in the overgrown area just south of the former east gate.


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