David Roberts - Encyclopedia

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DAVID ROBERTS (1796-1864), Scottish painter, was born at Stockbridge, Edinburgh, on the 24th of October 1796. He was apprenticed by his father, a shoemaker, for seven years to a painter and house-decorator; and during this time he employed his evenings in the study of art. In 1820 he formed the acquaintance of Clarkson Stanfield, then painting at the Pantheon, Edinburgh, at whose suggestion he sent three pictures in 1822 to the Exhibition of Works by Living Artists, held in Edinburgh. In the same year he removed to London, where he worked for the Coburg Theatre, and was afterwards employed, along with Stanfield, at Drury Lane. In 1824 he exhibited at the British Institution a view of Dryburgh Abbey, and sent two works to the first exhibition of the Society of British Artists, of which he was elected president in 1831. In the same autumn he visited Normandy, and the works which were the results of this excursion began to lay the foundation of the artist's reputation - one of them, a view of Rouen Cathedral, being sold for eighty guineas. His scenes for an opera, The Seraglio, executed two years later, and the scenery for a pantomime dealing with the naval victory of Navarino, and two panoramas executed jointly by him and Stanfield, were among his last work for the theatres. In 1829 he exhibited the "Departure of the Israelites from Egypt," in which his style first becomes apparent; three years afterwards he travelled in Spain and Tangiers, returning in the end of 1833 with a supply of effective sketches, elaborated into attractive and popular paintings. His "Interior of Seville Cathedral" was exhibited in the British Institution in 1834, and sold for £30o; and he executed a fine series of Spanish illustrations for the Landscape Annual of 1836, while in 1837 a selection of his Picturesque Sketches in Spain was reproduced by lithography.

In 1838 Roberts made a long tour in the East, and accumulated a vast collection of sketches of a class of scenery which had hitherto been hardly touched by British artists, and which appealed to the public with all the charm of novelty. The next ten years of his life were mainly spent in elaborating these materials. An extensive series of drawings was lithographed by Louis Haghe in Sketches in the Holy Land and Syria, 1842-1849. In 1851, and again in 1853, Roberts visited Italy, painting the "Ducal Palace, Venice," bought by Lord Londesborough, the "Interior of the Basilica of St Peter's, Rome," "Christmas Day, 1853," and "Rome from the Convent of St Onofrio," presented to the Royal Scottish Academy. His last volume of illustrations, Italy, Classical, Historical and Picturesque, was published in 1859. He also executed, by command of Queen Victoria, a picture of the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1839 he was elected an associate and in 1841 a full member of the Royal Academy; and in 1858 he was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. The last years of his life were occupied with a series of views of London from the Thames. He had executed six of these, and was at work upon a picture of St Paul's Cathedral, when, on the 25th November 1864, he died suddenly of apoplexy.

A Life of Roberts, compiled from his journals and other sources by James Ballantine, with etchings and pen-and-ink sketches by the artist, appeared in Edinburgh in 1866.

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