Robert Gemmell Hutchison (1855 – 1936)

Robert Gemmell Hutchison pre 1900
Figure 1. Robert Gemmell Hutcheson, R.S.W., R.B.A.from a chalk study by H.W.Kerr, A.R.S.A. G. Setoun, Art Journal, 1900 p 321

In December 1918, Robert Gemmell Hutchison of 8, St. Bernard`s Crescent, Edinburgh and “Coral Den”, Carnoustie presented the painting Getting Ready to Glasgow Corporation as a memorial to his son the artist.1

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Figure 2. Getting Ready by George Jackson Hutchison, 1916. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (www.artuk.org)

Robert Gemmell Hutchison was born at 35, North Richmond Street, Edinburgh on 1st July 1855. He was the first child of George Hutchison, a brass founder, and his wife Margaret Forman. 2 Soon after his birth, the family moved to 37, Carrubbers Close, Canongate. 3 It is not recorded which school Robert attended but he did not enjoy the experience! He was described as “scraping from class to class with as little work as possible, and, as soon as he could, leaving it gladly”.4 From the census of 1871, the family was still at 37, Carrubbers Close and had increased to seven; three sons and four daughters. Robert`s occupation was “seal engraver”. 5 “Still, if he did not like school, he liked seal-engraving, to which he was apprenticed, less”. With encouragement from his mother of whom he “always speaks with great reverence”, he was determined to become an artist and gave up seal-engraving to attend, aged 17, the Board of Manufacturers` School of Art in Edinburgh (also called the Trustees Academy).6 One of his instructors here was William McTaggart. He also attended the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) Schools. At this time, he received valuable advice and help from the artist J. Campbell Noble, RSA and thus encouraged he sent some of his paintings to the RSA Annual Exhibitions. After several rejections, he was eventually successful in 1878 when he had three small landscapes exhibited: Youthful Labour, Quiet Pastures and A Country Well. 7 One of these was bought by the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland and for which Hutchison received the sum of six guineas. 8 He submitted the paintings from his studio at 1, India Buildings, Edinburgh.

On 24th June 1879, Robert aged 23, married Janet Boe who was 21 and the daughter of a grocer in Biggar. The marriage took place at 4, Morningside Park, Edinburgh. On the marriage certificate he listed his occupation as “artist (figure painter)” and his address as 38, Jamaica Street, Edinburgh. For some reason he omitted to sign his surname on the certificate! 9 The couple had nine children only five of whom survived infancy 10. These were four daughters; Jane (1880-1956), Marion Maud (1887-1963), Roberta Louise (1889-1966), Ann Carr Forman (1893-1978) and a son, George Jackson Hutchison who was born in 1895. In 1881, Robert was with his wife and daughter Jane at 26, Caledonian Place, Edinburgh. His occupation was “artist”.11

After a period spent painting landscapes along the Fife coast, Robert began to specialise in scenes of Scottish rural life especially those involving children and in the year after his marriage, he had a painting The Empty Cradle exhibited at the Royal Academy (RA) in London. His studio was now at 53, George Street, Edinburgh. There followed five exhibits at the RA over the next decade all sent from addresses in London.12 He continued to exhibit annually at the RSA and in 1886 was awarded a prize for his painting Boys Guddling Trout. From 1888 onwards he also exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute. At the 1891 Census he was an “artist, figure and portrait”, living at 4, Melville Place, Edinburgh with his wife and four daughters. 13 His son George was born at the same address four years later. 14

He began to paint and exhibit widely throughout Britain. A favourite location was Carnoustie in Angus where he had a house, “Coral Den”, in William Street. He also painted in Macrihanish, at Musselburgh and on the Farne Islands. From about 1896 to 1903 the family (Robert, Janet, Roberta, Ann and George) was living at St. Ive`s Cottage Lanark Road, Braidwood, Carluke. 15,16 Robert was elected to many prestigious institutions throughout the British Isles; e.g. to the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour, (RSW) in 1895, the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA), 1896, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI), and Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy (ARSA) in 1901 and RSA in 1911.17 In 1903 he exhibited a work Bairnies Cuddle Doon at the Paris Salon. 18 He was awarded a gold medal and the painting was purchased by the Scottish Modern Arts Association.21 He was awarded a second gold medal at the Paris Salon Exhibition of 1928 for his painting The White Seam. This was bought by Paisley Corporation and is now at the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery. Hutchison was elected to full membership of the RSA in 1911, replacing William McTaggart who had died the previous year.20 “Gemmell Hutchison had held McTaggart in the highest esteem and it was to him that he owed his loose painterly technique and in many ways his most popular subject matter – that of children on the beach. Both his family and that of McTaggart confirmed that the latter was a luminary for Hutchison. 21

RGHutchison Edit
Figure 3. Robert Gemmell Hutchison (early 1900s). Royal Scottish Academy Archives  Copyright R.S.A                                   

Another influence on Hutchison was the artistic style of the Hague School in Holland which he visited in 1905. On his return to Scotland he took to painting in the open air with a “looser technique and lighter palette”. 22 One of his works of this period was Seagulls and Sapphire Seas (1909) which he sold to Bolton Art Gallery in 1912 (Appendix 1). In 1910 he was commissioned to paint the coronation of George V and Queen Mary at Westminster Abbey. From the census of 1911 he and his family were living at 14, Craighall Terrace, Inveresk, Musselburgh. In his later years he spent his summers at his daughter`s home in Coldingham, Berwickshire painting outdoors. His subjects included views of St. Abbs, Gulls on the Farne Islands as well as portraits of his daughter. He continued to exhibit up till the year of his death.

Robert Gemmell Hutchison died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Coldingham on 23rd August 1936. He was 81 years of age. 23 He was buried in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh after a private service at his home at 8, St. Bernard`s Crescent. Two of his daughters, his son-in-law and a nephew were among the pall-bearers. Also present were many fellow artists and members of the artistic establishment. 24,25

His estate was valued at £11,079.10s.7p with his two daughter named as next of kin. 26

Headstone
Figure 4. Gravestone in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.© http://www.gravestonephotos.com

Various critics have commented on his painting style:

“Robert Gemmell Hutchison is one of the best-known of the early twentieth-century Scottish artists who drew their inspiration from the Hague School of painters and by the work of the nineteenth century Dutch artists Joseph Israels and Bernardus Johannes Blommers. His paintings of fisher-folk, especially of young children playing by the sea or seated in cottage interiors, have a charming pathos and are similar in subject to those painted by his luminary William McTaggart ”. 27

He “has an appreciation of the fusing influence of tone and atmosphere, and brings a broad and vigorous method of painting, good drawing, and effective design to bear upon a rather fresh view of village life. Despite a certain commonness, his pictures are usually well thought out, and, logically put together in a pictorial way, tell their stories with considerable point. His feeling again, although lacking in charm or novel insight, is sympathetic, and his treatment of childhood, if somewhat literal, fresh and individual”. 28

His paintings today are valued and continue to sell well e.g. The Village Carnival sold for £110,000 in Edinburgh in 2006. 29 (See also Appendix 2).

George Jackson Hutchison was a gifted painter but was killed in action at Merville, France on 28th June 1918 aged only twenty-two. He had served as a private in the K.O.S.B.s. After George`s death, his father presented his painting Getting Ready to Glasgow Corporation as a memorial to his son. The painting was accepted on 18th December 1918. The Minutes of the Corporation record that;

“The sub-committee agreed to accept the picture by this talented young artist, who made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country, and to recommend that the Corporation accord his father a vote of thanks for the gift and extend to him their sympathy and condolence in his bereavement”. 30

Each year, Edinburgh College of Art awards a “George Jackson Hutchison Memorial Prize” for outstanding painting. It seems likely that this was initiated by Robert Gemmell Hutchison in memory of his son. However, Edinburgh College of Art, now incorporated into Edinburgh University, could not confirm this due to the current state of their records.

References

  1. Glasgow Corporation Minutes, Sub-Committee on Art Galleries and Museums, C1 3.60, p330, 18th December 1918.
  2. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  3. ancestry.co.uk, Scotland Census 1861
  4. Setoun, G., R. Gemmell Hutchison, R.S.W., R.B.A., Art Journal, 1900, pp 321-6
  5. ancestry.co.uk, Census 1871
  6. Setoun, G., R. Gemmell Hutchison, R.S.W., R.B.A., Art Journal, 1900, pp 321-6
  7. Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors, 1826 – 1990, Hilmartin Manor Press, 1991.
  8. Setoun, G., R. Gemmell Hutchison, R.S.W., R.B.A., Art Journal, 1900, pp 321-6.
  9. Scotland`s People, Marriage Certificate
  10. Scotland`s People, Census 1911
  11. Scotland`s People, Census 1881
  12. Catalogues of the Royal Academy Exhibitions, 1880-89, W. Clowes and Sons, Ltd.
  13. Scotland`s People, Census 1891
  14. Scotland`s People, Birth Certificate
  15. Scotland`s People, Census 1901
  16. Slater`s National Commercial Directory of Scotland, 1882-1915
  17. Johnson, J and Greutzner, A., Dictionary of British Artists, 1880 – 1940, , Antique Collectors Club, 1976).
  18. Setoun, G., R. Gemmell Hutchison, R.S.W., R.B.A., Art Journal, 1900, pp 321-6
  19. Fowle, Frances, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, 2004-13, May 2011.
  20. The Scotsman, February 9th, 1911, p5.
  21. https://lyonandturnbull.com/content/show_news.asp?id=146
  22. Fowle, Frances, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, 2004-13, May 2011.
  23. Scotland`s People, Death Certificate
  24. The Scotsman, August 27th, 1936, p8.
  25. The Scotsman, August 24th, 1936, Death Notices
  26. Confirmations and Inventories, 1936, Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  27. artfact.com › Auctioneer Directory
  28. Caw, J.L., Scottish Painting, 1908, p 427-8.
  29. Edinburgh Evening News, May 3rd, 2006.
  30. Glasgow Corporation Minutes, Sub-Committee on Art Galleries and Museums, C1 3.60, p330, 18th December 1918.

Appendix 1

One of the finest paintings by Robert Gemmell Hutchison, possibly the best loved of Scottish artists, set a new world record for the artist at Bonhams Annual Scottish Sale in Edinburgh on Wednesday 31 August, 2011 when it was sold for £120,000. Sea Gulls and Sapphire Seas was painted in 1909 and represents the artist at the height of his powers. In a dazzling display of impressionistic technique, Hutchison places a characteristic foreground of children in the sand dunes against the sparkling sea and whirling gulls. Many of his most popular paintings feature children playing beside the sea and he often used his daughters and their friends as models in coastal locations in Berwickshire, East Lothian and Carnoustie. The painting was sold by Bolton Museum which bought the work from the artist for £150 in 1912.

Beach
Figure 5. Public Domain (http://www.artdaily.org)

Appendix 2

A pensioner has unearthed a hoard of stolen art treasures in the loft of his Helensburgh home. The 67-year-old discovered the missing paintings while rummaging in the dusty room and – not realising their value – decided to try to raise a few pounds by selling them. After seeking advice from an art expert, he was told the paintings were not his to sell. The canvasses were the creations of two celebrated Scottish artists, which had been stolen five years ago and were worth at least £250,000. Inquiries revealed that the three paintings by Robert Gemmell Hutchison and two by Sir James Guthrie were stolen from a house in Helensburgh’s Cairndhu Gardens in 2002. Investigators believe that when the thieves failed to sell the works they dumped them in the communal attic above a block of flats in the town’s Kirkmichael estate. The paintings are The Pink Pinafore, Feeding the Gulls and Cottarita by Gemmell Hutchison and Luss Road and Candlelight by Guthrie.

One resident said: “The old boy went up there on Thursday and initially tried to sell them on. He contacted someone at the Fine Art Council and they made checks and realised they were stolen. “There were five paintings in total and my mate was offered them as a set, but wasn’t that impressed and wouldn’t have paid more than £50 for the lot.” He added: “The paintings have obviously been nicked years ago by a gang of young lads, but when they found out they couldn’t get anything for them, they just dumped them.

Robert Gemmell Hutchison was born in Edinburgh in 1855 and was a prolific artist whose works were lauded around Britain. His work, The Village Carnival, was sold for £110,000 in 2006.  At the time of their theft in 2002 the five paintings were valued at £246,000.

The Scotsman, Saturday 12 January 2008

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