An Artist's Family


Sir James Hall ,
Geology of Edinburgh ,
Friends of the family ,
Henry Raeburn ,
Evenings at home ,
Society of artists ,
"Caller Aon" ,
Management of the household ,
The family ,
Education of six sisters ,
The Nasmyth classes ,
Pencil drawing ,
Excursions round Edinburgh ,
Graphic memoranda ,
Patrick Nasmyth, sketch of his life ,
Removes to London ,
Visit to Hampshire ,
Original prices of his works ,
His friends ,
His death ,

ALTHOUGH Alexander Nasmyth had to a considerable extent lost his aristocratic connection as a portrait painter, yet many kind and generous friends gathered round him. During his sojourn in Italy, in 1783, he had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Haddingtonshire. The acquaintance afterwards ripened into a deeply-rooted friendship.

During the winter season Sir James resided with his family in his town house in George Street. He was passionately attached to the pursuit of art and science. He practised the art of painting in my father's room, and was greatly helped by him in the requisite manipulative skill. Sir James was at that time engaged in writing his well-known essay "On the Origin of Gothic Architecture," and in this my father was of important use to him. He executed the greater number of the illustrations for this beautiful work. The book when published had a considerable influence in restoring the taste of architects to a style which they had heretofore either neglected or degraded.

Besides his enthusiasm in art and architecture, Sir James devoted a great deal of time to the study of geology. The science was then in its infancy. Being an acute observer, Hall's attention was first attracted to the subject by the singular geological features of the sea-coast near his mansion at Dunglass. The neighbourhood of Edinburgh also excited his interest. The upheaval of the rocks by volcanic heat -- as seen in the Castle Hill, the Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat -- formed in a great measure the foundation of the picturesque beauty of the city. Those were the days of the Wernerian and Huttonian controversy as to the origin of the changes on the surface of the earth. Sir James Ball was President of the Edinburgh Royal Society, and necessarily took an anxious interest in the discussions. He observed and experimented, and established the true volcanic nature of the composition and formation of the rocks and mountains which surround Edinburgh.

I have been led to speak of this subject, because when a boy I was often present at the discussions of these great principles. My father, Sir James Hall, Professors Playfair and Leslie, took their accustomed walks round Edinburgh, and I clung eagerly to their words. Though unable to understand everything that was said, these walks had a great influence upon my education. Indeed, what education can compare with that of listening attentively to the conversation and interchange of thought of men of the highest intelligence? It is on such occasions that ideas, not mere words, take hold of the memory, and abide there until the close of life.

Besides mixing in the society of scientific men, my father enjoyed a friendly intercourse with the artists of his day. He was often able to give substantial help and assistance to young students; and he was most liberal in giving them valuable practical instruction, and in assisting them over the manipulative difficulties which lay in their way. He was especially assiduous when he saw them inspired by the true spirit of art, and full of application and industry, -- without which nothing can be accomplished. Amongst these young men were David Wilkie, Francis Grant, David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield, William Allan, Andrew Geddes, "Grecian" Williams, Lizars the engraver, and the Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston.

Henry Raeburn was one of his most intimate friends and companions. He considered Raeburn's broad and masterly style of portrait painting as an era in Scottish art. Raeburn, with innate tact, discerned the character of his sitters, and he imparted so much of their individuality into his portraits as to make them admirable likenesses in the highest sense. In connection with Raeburn, I may mention that when he was knighted by George IV. in 1822, my father, who was then at the head of his profession in Scotland, was appointed chairman at the dinner held to do honour to the great Scottish portrait painter.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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