Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simson, William

SIMSON, WILLIAM (1800–1847), Scottish painter, second son of Alexander Simson, merchant, was born at Dundee in 1800. His father was admitted a burgess of Dundee in 1792, and, though engaged in commerce, was deeply interested in art. Three of his sons became artists: George (1791–1862), a portrait- and landscape-painter, who became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy; William, the subject of this notice; and David (1803–1874), a successful landscape-painter and lithographer.

William began his art education in 1818 under Andrew Wilson (1780–1848), master of the Trustees' Academy at Edinburgh. Among his fellow students were Robert Scott Lauder [q. v.] and David Octavius Hill [q. v.], and Simson soon took a prominent place among them. His early works were local landscapes and sea-pieces, but the success of his elder brother George as a portrait-painter led him to follow temporarily that branch of art. Simson was one of those who helped to create the Scottish (afterwards the Royal Scottish) Academy in 1830. In that year he exhibited his ‘Shooting Party Regaling’—chiefly portraits—at the Royal Academy, London, and from that time till the year of his death (with the exception of 1833–35–36) he was a regular exhibitor there. In 1831 he began to exhibit at the Scottish Academy, and he sent in all seventy-two pictures to its exhibitions. In 1835 Simson studied in Italy. His work there led to his composition, ‘Cimabue and Giotto,’ which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838 (Athenæum, 1838, p. 363), and purchased by Sir Robert Peel for 150 guineas. Simson returned to London in 1838, and settled at 91 Dean Street, Soho, afterwards removing to 12 Sloane Street. He exhibited regularly at the British Institution as well as at the Royal Academy. His subjects were now principally historical, but he still essayed landscape. He died at Sloane Street on 29 Aug. 1847.

Simson's most important works were: ‘Columbus at the Door of the Convent of La Rabida’ (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839); ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony’ (at the Scottish Academy, 1844); ‘Baronial Retainers,’ and ‘Salvator Rosa's first Cartoon on the Wall of the Certosa’ (at the Royal Academy, 1844). Others of his historical and genre pieces were ‘Don Quixote studying the Books of Chivalry’ (1832), ‘Prince Charles Edward reading a Despatch at Holyrood’ (1834), ‘Prince Charles Edward at the Battle of Preston’ (1834), ‘The Murder of the Princes in the Tower’ (1838), and ‘Alfred dividing his Last Loaf with a Pilgrim’ (1842). Several of his best landscapes dealt with the Roman Campagna and its population of shepherds and goatherds. Seven of his pictures are in the Scottish National Gallery.

[Lamb's Dundee, its Quaint and Historic Buildings; Brydall's Hist. of Art in Scotland, p. 465; Catalogues of Royal Academy and Scottish Academy, 1830–49; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers; local information.]

A. H. M.