Alexander Runciman

The Blind Ossian Singing and Accompanying himself on the Harp (About 1772)

About this artwork

In 1771 Runciman returned to Scotland after a prolonged trip to Italy. Before his trip he had made a promise to Sir James Clerk of Penicuik, 3rd Baronet, that he would decorate the great hall and staircases of Clerk’s newly built manor, Penicuik House. Clerk had funded Runciman’s trip to Italy, and conversed with him about his intentions for the decorations while abroad. He had originally intended to paint a cycle based on scenes from classical mythology, but at some point he changed his mind in favour of subjects from the poems of Ossian, a fictitious third-century Celtic bard. The decorations at Penicuik (sadly destroyed by fire in 1899) were Runciman’s masterpieces. This drawing shows his unfinished designs for the central oval of the ceiling.

Alexander Runciman

Alexander Runciman

Alexander Runciman was born in Edinburgh and received the first part of his artistic training at the Foulis Academy in Glasgow. He later studied in Italy with his younger brother John, an artist of great promise who died of consumption whilst abroad. Alexander worked largely as a painter of romantic landscapes and historical scenes, and was responsible for several mural paintings in and around Edinburgh. He was an important figure in the education of artists, becoming master of the Trustees' Academy, the forerunner of the Edinburgh School of Art.