John Irvine

Margaret Chalmers, Mrs Lewis Hay, 1763 - 1843. Friend and correspondent of Robert Burns

About this artwork

There were many women in the life of Robert Burns and much of his writing is love poetry, whether lyrical or bawdy. Burns first met Margaret ‘Peggy’ Chalmers, the well-educated daughter of a small landowner, in Edinburgh in late 1786. By then, he was already the father of Jean Armour’s twins, but this did not hinder other romances, whether platonic, as with Eliza Burnett, daughter of Lord Monboddo, or sexual, as with Meg Cameron, an Edinburgh bar maid. Burns proposed to Margaret Chalmers in the autumn of 1787, but she rejected him, as she was already engaged to Lewis Hay, a banking clerk. Of all the women in Burns’s life, Peggy was perhaps the closest he came to an intellectual soul mate, and she inspired at least two poems, ‘My Peggy’s Charms’ and ‘Where, Braving Angry Winter’s Storms’.

  • title: Margaret Chalmers, Mrs Lewis Hay, 1763 - 1843. Friend and correspondent of Robert Burns
  • accession number: PG 317
  • artist: John IrvineScottish (1805 - 1888)
  • depicted: Margaret Chalmers
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Burns
  • medium: Oil on canvas
  • date created: Unknown
  • measurements: 33.00 x 28.00 cm (framed: 48.40 x 43.50 x 4.50 cm)
  • credit line: Bequeathed by W.F. Watson 1886
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

John Irvine

John Irvine

Irvine was born in Lerwick in Shetland in June 1805. He lost his father aged only ten, and realised that survival in the world would have to come from his own hard work. He had left Shetland by 1826, arriving at London via Edinburgh. He studied at the Royal Academy and was awarded a medal in 1828. Fellow students included William Etty and Daniel Maclise, who he was particularly friendly with. In 1834 he was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, and also exhibited in London in 1838, specialising in portraits. He emigrated to Australia to join his son, and in 1863 he moved to Dunedin in New Zealand. He remained there until his death, aged eighty-three.