Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Melville, Arthur

MELVILLE, ARTHUR (1855–1904), artist, born at Loanhead of Guthrie, Forfarshire, on 10 April 1866 (Parish Register), was fourth son (in the family of seven sons and two daughters) of Arthur Melvilie, a coachman, by his wife Margaret Wann. When Arthur was quite young the family removed to East Linton, a picturesque village on the Haddingtonshire Esk. There he went to school, and at an early ago was apprenticed to a grocer. Devoted to drawing from childhood, he gave up a situation at Dalkeith, when about twenty, and went to Edinburgh, determined to become an artist. He worked with energy and enthusiasm in the school of art, and later in the life school of the Royal Scottish Academy, receiving encouragement from J. Campbell Noble, R.S.A., of whom he was a personal pupil.

In 1875 he exhibited for the first time at the Scottish Academy, and during the next few years painted some oil pictures of homely incident, which secured the interest of one or two local connoisseurs and led to his going to Paris in 1878. There he studied at Julien's Passage Panorama atelier and sketched on the quays. He also painted at Grez and Granville, and it was in the work then done in water-colour, though his oil pictures distinctive qualities also, that to reveal the special qualities which developed rapidly and distinguished his art to the end. Three years later, in 1881, he went to Egypt, where he found material and effects eminently suited to stimulate his artistic development. From Egypt he went by Suez and Aden to Kurrachi, whence he found his way up the Persian Gulf to Bagdad, rode across Asia Minor to the Black Sea, and took steamer to Constantinople. During these two years he made many striking drawings and stored up a wealth of impressions, which bore fruit in future years.

When Melville returned to Scotland, the artistic movement, which issued in what came to be known as the Glasgow school, had already begun. There was a certain affinity between his work and that of the young Glasgow painters. Meeting Mr. (now Sir James) Guthrie and E. A. Walton at Cockburnspath in 1883, Melville associated himself with them. He had already achieved a more individual style than they, and his strong personality helped to accelerate and mould the Glasgow movement, but he on his part was influenced by the Glasgow artists' enthusiasm and audacity in experiment. During the following years, besides completing many Eastern sketches, he painted in water-colours in the Orkneys; but the most important pictures which he produced before leaving Edinburgh for London in 1888 were several oil portraits, amongst them 'The Flower Girl' (1883), 'Miss Ethel Croall' (1886), and the 'Portrait of a Lady' shown at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1889, each in its way a tour de force. A visit to Spain and Tangier in 1889-90 was followed in 1892 by an expedition to northern Spain with Mr. Frank Brangwyn. These journeys supplied Melville with motives for a series of important drawings executed on a larger scale and more subtle and masterly in style and finer in colour than their predecessors. Venice in 1894 was his next fruitful venture. After 1897 he devoted more attention to oil painting. There, however, his work, although always interesting and powerful, was more experimental and less satisfying, and, in portraiture at least, tended to extravagance. Tn 1904 he was again in Spain, at San Sebastian, Granada, and Barcelona, but he contracted typhoid fever while there, and on 29 Aug. he died from its after-effects, at his residence, Redlands, Witley, Surrey. His body was cremated and his ashes lie in Brookwood cemetery.

On 18 Dec. 1899 he married in London Ethel, daughter of David Croall of Southfield, Liberton, Midlothian, who, with a daughter, survived him. Mrs. Melville has a charcoal drawing of him by Sir James Guthrie; Mr. Graham Robertson, an intimate friend, made two sketches of him, which remain in his own possession. Melville was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1886, and was for some years a member of the Royal Scottish Water-Colour Society. In London he became an associate of the Royal Water Colour Society in 1889 and full member in 1900. The National Gallery of Scotland possesses 'A Moorish Procession,' one of the finest of his Tangier drawings, and 'Christmas Eve,' one of four large oil pictures illustrating Christmas carols, upon which he was engaged at his death; the Glasgow Gallery has an important water-colour, 'The Capture of a Spy,' and in the water-colour collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is 'The Little Bull Fight—Bravo Toro!' There are also notable drawings by him in the Luxembourg, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

[Information from Mrs. Melville and Mr. J. C. Noble; exhibition catalogues; R.S.A. Report, 1904; Baldwin Brown, The Glasgow School of Painters, 1908 (with photographic portrait); J. L. Caw, Scottish Painting, 1908.]

J. L. C.