Sir George Reid, portrait and landscape painter, was born on the 31st of October, 1841.
Sir George Reid is not to be confused with Sir George Houston Reid as the latter was an Australian politician and the former, the subject of this piece, a mere painter of pictures. What they had in common, apart from given and surnames, was that both men were born and bred in Scotland, the latter, somewhat appropriately, four years later than the former. Whilst one made his fame and fortune in a far off land after emigrating at the age of seven, the other stayed at home and immortalised his fellow Scots in pen and pencil and pigment.
The one with the middle name was arguably more famous as he rose to become Prime Minister of Australia in 1904-5, but if you take a dim view of politicians, perhaps we should stick with the artist. Sir George Reid the artist never painted a portrait of Sir George Houston Reid the politician, which is a shame as there could’ve been an opportunity in 1909, when Reid became the Australian High Commissioner in London, a post he held until he retired in 1916, three years after his namesake had died. It would've been interesting to see what Reid the Painter would've made of Reid the Politico's walrus moustache, which was apparently a popular subject for the cartoonists of the day. Who knows if Reid the Painter ever visited London, but he did live in Oakhill, Somerset, for a while, apparently.
One of Sir George Reid's most popular paintings hangs in The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, in St. Andrews. Amongst images of many a famous golfer is Reid's portrayal of Old Tom Morris, Tom Morris Sr. as he's formally known, although he was informally known as Tam to his cronies. The portrait in oils of Old Tom was commissioned in September of 1902 and delivered to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club the following spring. Reid was paid the less than princely sum of £250 and no shillings; no pennies either. Perhaps they threw in a few free rounds of golf on the links. According to the munificent Royal and Ancient, the painting was received with great enthusiasm when it was presented at the Club's 1903 Spring Meeting. However, it's reported that on seeing his portrait for the first time, Old Tom, who was really old, eighty one years old to be exact, said, “You’ve got the checks on my bunnet a’ wrang.” A kind of a back-handed compliment, don't you think, from the garrulous old codger. By the time Reid painted the portrait of Morris, he had been established as one of Scotland's most renowned portraitists for around thirty years.
Sir George Reid was born plain George Reid in Aberdeen on the 31st of October, 1841. Dod as he was known when he went to school, developed an early passion for drawing. He didn't like sums, but he was fond enough of reading and writing. When he was thirteen, he was apprenticed to Messrs. Keith & Gibb, lithographers, of and in Aberdeen. Reid's apprenticeship as a lithographer lasted for seven years. In 1861, once his term was over, Reid took lessons in portrait painting from an itinerant portrait painter by the name of William Niddrie, who had been a pupil of James Giles. The following year, that's 1862 if you're struggling to keep up, Reid moved to Edinburgh, where he studied at the school of the Board of Trustees, known as the Trustees' Academy.
Some time afterwards, Reid returned to Aberdeen to paint landscapes and portraits for, as the Encyclopædia Britannica records, “any trifling sum which his work could command.” Reid's landscapes, such as 'Whins in Bloom', were painted outdoors, but it's gey cauld in Aberdeen maist of the time, so it's perhaps not unsurprising that he settled on portraits, where he could bide indoors where it was nice and warm. The first of Reid's portraits to attract attention was that of George Macdonald, the poet and novelist, a painting that is now the property of the University of Aberdeen. In his early days, Reid was supported by the Aberdeen collector, John Forbes White, and his crony, a pivotal figure of Aberdeen society called Alexander Macdonald of Kepplestone. That man was the son of a granite merchant of the same name who, in the 1830s, had invented the first machine for dressing and polishing granite. Having bought Kepplestone mansion near Aberdeen, in 1863, Alexander Macdonald quickly became known as a major patron of the arts, later bequeathing more than 200 of his paintings to the Aberdeen Art Gallery, which was opened in 1885.
Through White, his mentor and friend, Reid became attracted to Dutch painting and between White and Macdonald, Reid was enabled to travel to Holland, in 1866, to study and work under the tutelage of the landscape and genre painter, Alexander Gerrit Mollinger. Reid admired Mollinger's work, but it appears to have been too “revolutionary” for the likes of the Royal Scottish Academy. Nevertheless, that didn't stop Reid ultimately gaining its approval. A couple of years later, in 1868, Reid went to Paris, to study under Adolphe Yvon, the leading teacher of drawing at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Yvon was known for his paintings from the Napoleonic Wars, a stunning example of which is his 'Marshall Ney at Retreat in Russia'.
Reid returned to Scotland in 1869, where he continued to paint landscapes and portraits that contained obvious influences from his sojourns in Holland and France. A turning point in Reid's career came after he painted a portrait of Thomas Keith, of the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1871. The following year, Reid went to den Haag, in Holland, to work with the Dutch painter of genre scenes, Josef Israels, a man with whom he became close friends. Reid took a holiday in 1876, when he accompanied William Robertson Smith, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and his sisters to Germany. When he got back, in 1877, Reid was elected Member of the Royal Scottish Academy, having been made Associate in 1870, and later, between 1891 and 1902, he held the office of its President. Reid move to Edinburgh in 1882 and was knighted in 1891.
Sir George Reid died in 1913.
Reid's two younger brothers, Archibald David (1844-1908) and Samuel (1854-1910), were also successful painters.