About this artwork

Runciman has painted his friend, a young poet, lost in creative thought. His exaggerated features - huge eyes, full lips - suggest brilliance and intensity. Fergusson's health was frail and there are various different accounts as to what led to his death, aged twenty-four in a public asylum. This includes a head injury, manic-depressive psychosis, syphilis and hypothermia. His most famous poem is ‘Auld Reekie’ (1773), which follows a day in the life of Edinburgh. Much of his work was written in Scots - the language of Lowland Scotland - and was an important inspiration to Robert Burns.

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.