Geddes, Andrew (DNB00)

GEDDES, ANDREW (1783–1844), painter, son of David Geddes, deputy-auditor of excise, Edinburgh, was born on 5 April 1783 (see Laing, Etchings). He received a classical education at the high school and the university of Edinburgh, and in 1803 became a clerk in the excise office. His father was a connoisseur and collector of prints; the son was so strongly drawn to art that he spent his leisure in sketching and copying engravings, and, when he was free to choose his own way of life, he resolved—fortified by the advice of John Clerk, afterwards Lord Eldin—to proceed to London and study as a painter. In 1806 he began to attend the schools of the Royal Academy, and in the same year exhibited there his first picture, a ‘St. John in the Wilderness.’ In 1810 he opened a studio in York Place, Edinburgh, and was soon in good practice as a portrait-painter. Four years later he visited Paris in company with Burnet the engraver, and evident traces of the Venetian masters whom he studied in the Louvre appear in the ‘Ascension,’ an altar-piece executed after his return for St. James's, Garlick Hill. A ‘Christ and the Woman of Samaria,’ shown in the Academy of 1841, and a cartoon of ‘Samson and Delilah’ were later efforts in the direction of religious art. His next important picture was the ‘Discovery of the Regalia of Scotland in 1818,’ with full-length portraits of all the commissioners appointed for its search, a picture afterwards ruined by neglect, only the portrait heads which it included being preserved. It was exhibited in the Academy in 1821, and formed the chief feature in the collected exhibition of seventy of his works which he brought together in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, in December of the same year, and which comprised portraits, sketches from the old masters made in Paris, and ‘pasticcio compositions’ in the manner of Rembrandt, Watteau, &c. Before 1823 he had finally established himself in London, for in that year he declined the suggestion of his artist friends in the north that he should return to Edinburgh with the view of filling the place of leading Scottish portrait-painter, vacant by Raeburn's death. In 1832 he was elected A.R.A. He married in 1827 Adela, youngest daughter of Nathaniel Plymer, miniature-painter; and in the following year started for the continent, where he resided, mainly in Italy, till the beginning of 1831, copying in the galleries, and at Rome painting portraits of Cardinal Weld, the Ladies M. and G. Talbot (afterwards Princesses of Doria and Borghese), J. Gibson, R.A., and James Morier. In 1839 he visited Holland for purposes of artistic study. He died of consumption in Berners Street, London, on 5 May 1844.

Geddes began the systematic practice of art comparatively late, and his works occasionally show defects of form; but he improved himself by a study of the great masters, and from the first his sense of colour and tone was unerring. He is represented in the National Gallery of Scotland by five works. The ‘Portrait of the Artist's Mother’ is entitled to rank as the painter's masterpiece. It forms the subject of one of his finest etchings. The portrait of George Sanders, miniature-painter, also in the Scottish national collection, is a good example of his cabinet-sized full-lengths, in which both the figures and the interiors in which they are placed are rendered with the most scrupulous finish of crisp detail. Among his works of this class ‘David Wilkie, R.A.,’ and ‘Patrick Brydone, F.R.S.,’ have been admirably mezzotinted by W. Ward, who also reproduced in the same method the life-sized portraits of the ‘Very Rev. George H. Baird, D.D.,’ the ‘Rev. Thomas Chalmers, D.D.,’ and ‘William Anderson.’ The list of Geddes's engraved works given by Laing may be supplemented by a few minor portrait book-plates and by the important mezzotint of ‘Sir John Marjoribanks, bart., of Lees,’ executed in 1835 by C. Turner. His copies from the old masters were highly valued, and have brought large prices. One of them, a full-sized transcript of Titian's ‘Sacred and Profane Love,’ hangs in the schools of the Royal Academy, London.

As an etcher Geddes ranks even higher than as a painter; his plates may be regarded as among the very earliest examples in modern English art of the brilliancy, concentration, and spirited selection of line proper to a ‘painter's-etching.’ His dry-points and etchings include portraits, landscapes, and a few copies from the old masters. Ten of them he himself published in 1826; forty-three are catalogued in Laing's volume, and there printed from the original coppers (much worn), or given in reproduction in cases when these no longer existed. Some six other uncatalogued subjects are to be found in the British Museum and in private collections.

There exist three oil-portraits of Geddes painted by himself: 1. Life-sized bust, in seventeenth-century costume, in the possession of Andrew Geddes Scott, Edinburgh. 2. Life-sized, to waist, unfinished (about 1826), in National Gallery of Scotland. 3. Cabinet-sized, to waist, in seventeenth-century costume (1812), in Scottish National Portrait Gallery (engraved, by J. Le Coute, in Laing's volume).

[David Laing's Etchings by Wilkie and Geddes, Edinburgh, 1875; Memoir by his Widow, London, 1844; Catalogue of his Exhibition in Edinburgh, 1821; Catalogues of National Gallery of Scotland and of Scottish National Portrait Gallery; P. G. Hamerton's Etchings and Etchers, 1880.]

J. M. G.