Aikman, William (DNB00)

AIKMAN, WILLIAM (1682–1731), a portrait painter, who attained celebrity in his day, was born at Caerney, Forfarshire, on 24 Oct. 1682. He was the only son of William Aikman, advocate, sheriff of Forfarshire, and a man of eminence at the Scottish bar. Designed by his father for the law, Aikman preferred art and studied for three years under Sir John Medina at Edinburgh. In 1707 he went to Rome, after selling his paternal estate near Arbroath. Here he remained three years, and then visited Constantinople and Smyrna. Returning by Rome and Florence, he reached Scotland in 1712. He practised in Edinburgh with much success till 1723, when he was persuaded by John, Duke of Argyll, to come to London, where he resided till his death, well employed and the friend of many of the most distinguished men of his time. He was fond of poetry and poets. At college he formed the acquaintance of Allan Ramsay, who wrote an eclogue to his memory. He interested himself much in favour of Thomson, introducing that poet to Sir Richard Walpole, Arbuthnot, Swift, Pope, and Gray. Thomson wrote verses bewailing his loss, Somervile addressed to him an epistle in rhyme, David Mallet wrote the epitaph on him and his son, Smollett also praised him in verse, and Samuel Boyse composed some lines eulogising his art. He painted a portrait of Allan Ramsay, engraved by G. White; one of Thomson as a young man, now at Hagley, engraved for Andrew Millar's edition of Thomson; one of Gay, engraved by T. Kyte; and one of Somervile. Amongst others whose portraits he is known to have painted were John, Duke of Argyll, the Countess of Burlington, and Lady Grissell Baillie. A number of full-length portraits by Aikman were painted for the Earl of Buckinghamshire, of Blickling Hall, Norfolk. He painted some portraits of himself, one of which is in the Uffizzi at Florence, and two others belonged in 1793 to his daughter, Mrs. Forbes of Edinburgh, one of which was engraved by R. Scott for James Anderson's ‘Bee.’ In the National Portrait Gallery is a portrait of Duncan Forbes ascribed to Aikman, and the Duke of Devonshire possesses a large unfinished picture by him of the royal family in three compartments. He was acquainted with Sir Godfrey Kneller, whose manner he imitated. Two portrait etchings by his hand are known, and there is an etching by him in the print room of the British Museum of several slightly executed heads, one of them after Van Dyck. His death took place at his house in Leicester Fields on 7 June 1731, and is said to have been caused by grief at the death of his only son at the age of 17. Both were buried in one grave in the Grey Friars Church, Edinburgh. Two daughters survived him.

[Stark's Biographia Scotica; Lempriere's Universal Biography; Walpole's Anecdotes of Painters; Anderson's Bee, vol. xviii.; Notes and Queries (2nd series), xi. 415; Heineken's Dict. des Artistes dont nous avons des Estampes; Cat. of National Portrait Gallery; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Nagler's Künstler-Lexikon (edited by Meyer, 1872).]

C. M.