William McTaggart, a portrait, landscape and coastal painter, was the son of a crofting family. He married in 1863. He was the grandfather of the landscape and still life painter Sir William McTaggart (1903-81).
McTaggart studied at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh under Scott Lauder. His early paintings were portraits, but by 1857 he had decided to dedicate himself to landscape and figure subjects, mainly of children. His first landscapes show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. By 1860 his works were characterised by an impressionistic style and lack of finish. By the 1880s his approach to landscape had become more aggressive with rougher canvasses and more turbulent compositions. In 1883 he began completing works in only one sitting, e.g. Carradale (1883; Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum).
McTaggart began exhibiting in 1853, showing in London at the New English Art Club, Agnew and Sons Gallery and Dowdeswell Galleries. He also exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. In 1859 he was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, becoming a full member in 1870. In 1878 he was elected President of the Scottish Society of Water Colour Painters. He was later appointed Vice-President of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.
McTaggart was among those Glasgow painters who in 1891 appended their names to a list requesting that the Corporation of Glasgow buy JW's Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) (#12326).
Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; McEwan, Peter J. M., Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture, Woodbridge, 1994; The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 2004).