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GORDON, Sir JOHN WATSON- (1788–1864), portrait-painter, was born in Edinburgh in 1788. He was descended from the Watsons of Overmains, Berwickshire, and was son of Captain James Watson of the royal artillery, and nephew of George Watson, first president of the Scottish Academy. Watson was trained for the army; but before receiving his commission in the engineers, while studying drawing under John Graham in the Trustees' Academy, Edinburgh, he decided to adopt art as a profession. He frequented the studios of his uncle and Raeburn, a friend of the family, and his art training was conducted exclusively in Scotland. In 1808 he contributed a scene from the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel' to the first public exhibition held in Edinburgh, which was followed by some historical and religious subjects painted with freedom and delicacy; but he soon turned to portraiture, to which he adhered for the rest of his life, and of which he was the leading practitioner in Scotland after the death of Raeburn in 1823. To distinguish himself from other portrait-painters named Watson then practising in Edinburgh, he assumed the style of Watson-Gordon, by which he is known, and thus appears for the first time in the catalogue of the 1826 exhibition of the Royal Institution, Edinburgh, of which he was an associate. He executed numerous versions of his portrait of Sir Walter Scott, of which the original unfinished study, made in 1830 (Catalogue of Scottish Centenary Exhibition, 1871), is in the National Gallery of Scotland, and painted most of the Scottish celebrities of his time. Indeed many distinguished Englishmen visited Edinburgh to be portrayed by his hand, among the rest David Cox, the landscape-painter, of whom he executed the admirable three-quarter length, now the property of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, shown in the Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, 1887. His productions are full of character, reserve, and dignity, excellent as likenesses, and especially successful when they portray faces distinguished by intellect or by Scotch shrewdness. Among his earlier works are 'James Gibson Lockhart,' 1821, and 'Prof. John Wilson' (the first of two portraits), 1822. The 'Earl of Dalhousie,' 1833, in the Archers' Hall, Edinburgh; 'Lord Pres. Hope,' in the Parliament House, Edinburgh; and 'Dr. Chalmers,' 1844, in the Peel Gallery, are important examples of the full-lengths of his middle period, when his works were rich and varied in colour and his execution was distinguished by great sweetness. His portraits of 'Dr. Brunton,' and 'Principal Lee,' in the Edinburgh University, indicate a change of style culminating in his latest manner, characterised by simplicity and even austerity of colour, the draperies and accessories being usually subordinated to the head, which is handled with great freedom, yet high finish, and on which is concentrated the main light and warmth of the picture, the flesh itself tending towards greyness of tone, clear and pearly in his finest efforts, but sometimes a little opaque and leaden in his less successful productions. Two of the eleven works that represent him in the National Gallery of Scotland are excellent examples of this period—the 'Sir John G. Shaw-Lefevre' and 'Roderick Gray, Provost of Peterhead.' An even finer version of the latter, in the Merchants' Hall, Edinburgh, was one of three portraits which gained a first-class medal at Paris in 1855. His last portrait, 'Sir David Brewster,' was presented by his brother to the National Gallery, London, and has been deposited in the National Portrait Gallery. He was one of the artists who were admitted members of the Scottish Academy in 1829, and he was represented in the exhibitions of that body from 1830 to 1865. In March 1850 he was elected to succeed Sir William Allan as P.R.S.A., and shortly afterwards he was knighted and appointed H.M. limner for Scotland. He became A.R.A. in 1841, and ten years later R.A., and he exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1827 till his death, in Edinburgh, on 1 June 1864. His works are very numerous, and many of them have been engraved. His brother and sister endowed in his memory the 'Watson-Gordon Professorship of Fine Art,' instituted in the Edinburgh University in 1879.

[Encyclopædia Britannica, 1879, vol. x. (an excellent and trustworthy article, compiled by a leading Scottish painter, and founded on particulars furnished by the Watson family); Harvey's Notes on the Early History of the Royal Scottish Academy; Catalogues of First Public Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1808, Royal Institution, Edinburgh, Royal Academy, Royal Scottish Academy, National Gallery, 1883, and National Gallery of Scotland; Portraits in Merchants' Hall, Edinburgh, and Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, 1887; Edinburgh University Calendar, 1873-4, 1880-1.]

J. M. G.