Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gibson, David Cooke

GIBSON, DAVID COOKE (1827–1856), artist and poet, born at Edinburgh 4 March 1827, was the son of a portrait-painter who died early of consumption, leaving a widow, David, and a daughter. After four years at the Edinburgh High School, he was admitted to the Board of Trustees' Academy. He passed through the ornamental class under Charles Heath Wilson, studied the collection of casts from the antique under Sir William Allan, and afterwards the colour class and life class under Thomas Duncan. Before he was seventeen years of age he was the chief support of his mother and sister, resigning all chance of a college career to devote himself to portrait-painting. His mother, Ann Gibson, died soon after September 1844, and his sister on 2 Dec. 1845 of consumption. Gibson had inherited the same disease, and the insinuation that his constitution was broken by vice is absolutely false. It is supported by a perversion of his dying words; his life was perfectly pure, though he was a social favourite, fond of dancing, an excellent mimic, eminently handsome and graceful, though diminutive in figure. In January 1846 he obtained three prizes at the Trustees' Academy. A month later two of his small pictures were badly hung at the Royal Scottish Academy, and he imprudently asked to withdraw one of these. He made a tour to London, Belgium, and Paris, studying in the great galleries. His copy of Vandyck's ‘Charles I’ was bought by Sir Edwin Landseer after Gibson's death. Returning to Edinburgh he worked hard at portraits. He removed to London in April 1852. At this time he wrote an immense quantity of easy and sometimes humorous verse. He had disappointments, was discontented, and listened to socialists and sceptics. He was attracted by the pre-Raphaelites, and his picture, ‘The Little Stranger,’ exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1855, was sold for 100l. After revisiting Scotland he was advised to go abroad for his health, and passed the winter of 1855–6 at Malaga. Some of his Spanish pictures were exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1856, and some of them were bought by John Phillips, R.A. After despatching his painting Gibson visited the Alhambra in March 1856, and made many sketches. Creswick had bought one of Gibson's pictures before the opening of the Academy for 150l. Gibson returned to England in June, but unfortunately lingered there too long. He broke a blood-vessel in September, and died 5 Oct. 1856. In the following May his ‘Gipsies of Seville’ was exhibited in the Academy. He had bequeathed to Dr. Tweedie his picture of the Alhambra Towers with the Sierra Nevada in the distance, ‘A Pleasing Prospect,’ and it was chromolithographed and published.

[Personal remembrance; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1855–7; Art Journal, 1855, p. 172, 1856–68; Struggles of a Young Artist, being a Memoir of David C. Gibson (anon., by William Macduff), 1858, valuable only for portrait, extracts from his journals of travel, and his poems, among which are ‘Angelo and Zelica,’ written at Malaga, in imitation of J. G. Lockhart; Dumfries Herald, Greenock Advertiser, and Macphail's Ecclesiastical Journal.]

J. W. E.