Artist of the month: Robert Walker Macbeth RA (1848-1910)
Robert Walker Macbeth RA, The Lass that a Sailor Loves, 1903. Oil on canvas
Walker Macbeth painted contemporary scenes of rural and fishing communities as well as historical genre scenes in the manner of William Quiller Orchardson. The Lass that a Sailor Loves is romantic and sentimental in tone and may be set in Brittany as it relates stylistically to other works he painted in that area. Although executed in oils, the painting has some of the qualities of a watercolour drawing, in its freshness of tone and crispness of colour.
Macbeth was deeply influenced by the work of British ruralists of the 1860s such as George Heming Mason, Frederick Walker and GJ Pinwell. Reviewing the Royal Academy exhibition of 1881 the critic for The Times noted:
‘Mr. Macbeth is the only artist now living among us who retains the power of the late Fred Walker of giving to his peasantry the simple dignity of movement and something of the antique nobility of form which we are accustomed to connect with the thought of Grecian sculpture. That he is able to do this without sacrifice of truth is no small praise.’
Sir Hubert von Herkomer RA, Portrait of Robert Walker Macbeth, 1892. Watercolour
Robert Walker Macbeth, was the son of the portrait painter Norman Macbeth (1821-1888) and brother of the artist Henry Raeburn-Macbeth, ARA (1860–1947). He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy School and first exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1867. He exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1869, moving to London the following year and began to work for The Graphic. Macbeth attended the Royal Academy Schools from 1871 to 1872. He exhibited at the Royal Academy regularly from 1873 until 1904 and also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery.
From the mid 1870s to late 1880s he spent long periods in the fenlands of Lincolnshire, painting scenes of field labourers such as A Lincolnshire Gang (1876), and Potato Harvest in the Fens (1877). These rural subjects were to feature consistently through the remainder of Macbeth’s career.
This portrait drawing (above) is by Hubert von Herkomer, who is better known for his paintings of social realist subjects. Herkomer did though turn to the more lucrative field of portraiture during the 1880s. His ability to rapidly paint large-scale formal portraits brought him considerable success and financial rewards. However, his commissioned works bear little resemblance to his smaller and more intimate portraits of friends, such as this small, lively watercolour made as a gift for his fellow artist Robert Walker Macbeth.
Born in Bavaria, Germany, Herkomer met the Scottish landscape painter and printmaker Robert Walker Macbeth in London where both began their careers producing illustrations for the new journal The Graphic.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, Two little pilgrims' progress: a story of the City Beautiful ...with illustrations by RW Macbeth ARA. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1895
As well as painting in oils and watercolours Macbeth was an accomplished etcher. He made etchings after the works of contemporaries such as Frederick Walker, GH Mason, W Dendy Sadler and Edward Burne-Jones as well as a series of etchings after paintings by Velásquez and Titian in the Prado, Madrid. He also illustrated many books and magazines including FG Jackson's A Thousand Days in the Arctic (1899) and journals such as Once a Week, The Sunday Magazine and English Illustrated Magazine.
The vignette on the upper cover of this book is close in manner to Macbeth's illustrations in the book.
Ralph Winwood Robinson, Photograph of Robert Walker Macbeth, c.1889-91. Platinotype print
This photograph is one of a series published in a volume of fifty-eight plates of Members And Associates Of The Royal Academy Of Arts 1891 Photographed In Their Studios By Ralph W Robinson Of Red Hill [London] (1892.)
Although Macbeth moved to Somerset around 1887 he kept his house in London where this photograph was probably taken. His address was Longsden in Carlton Hill, which was in the vicinity of St John's Wood, an area notable for its popularity with artists since the eighteenth century and home to many Academicians. Macbeth is shown taking a break from work on a plate above which is a screen used to diffuse the light. On the easel behind him are working proofs of other prints he was working on. One is identifiable as a print he engraved after Frederick Walker’s watercolour of Spring (1864, Victoria & Albert Museum) which was published by Thomas Agnew & Sons in 1889.
- The Lass that a Sailor Loves is on view at the Royal Academy on Norman Shaw stairs until the beginning of Sept 2008.
Visit the Royal Academy Collection website www.racollection.org.uk and explore previous Artists of the Month.