The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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David Roberts, 1796-1864

Nationality: Scottish
Date of Birth: 1796.10.24
Place of Birth: Stockbridge, Edinburgh
Date of Death: 1864.11.25
Place of Death: London


David Roberts, the son of a shoemaker, was a scenographer, painter and watercolourist.


Roberts began his career apprenticed to a house painter and then as a stage designer in theatres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. In 1824 he made his exhibition début in London. Roberts, who was nicknamed 'the Scottish Canaletto', specialised in picturesque topographical and architectural views, e.g. View of Rouen Cathedral (exh. 1826 R.A., no. 221; whereabouts unknown) and Fortress of the Alhambra (1836; Fogg Art Gallery, Cambridge, MA). His works was praised by John Ruskin.

Roberts travelled widely, painting in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, Italy, Austria, Spain, Morocco, Tangier, Egypt and the Near East. Some of his watercolours were published as engravings in the Landscape Annuals (1835-8) and as lithographs in his Picturesque Sketches in Spain (1837). He also made watercolours from sketches by other artists for engraving in T. H. Horne's Landscape Illustrations of the Bible (1836). His paintings of the East were reproduced as lithographs by Louis Haghe, and later formed the six volumed The Holy Land, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia (1842-9). In the 1860s he began to paint a series of views of the Thames.

At the formation of the Society of British Artists in 1823, Roberts became its Vice-President, being promoted to President in 1830. In 1887 when JW, who was President from 1886 to 1888, was attempting to gain a Royal Charter for the society, Horace Henry Cauty suggested that Roberts might be contacted to gain further information about the society's history (#05283).

In 1829 Roberts was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1838, becoming a full member in 1841. In 1851 he was named one of the commissioners for the Great Exhibition.


Ballantine, J., The Life of David Roberts, R.A., Edinburgh, 1866; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1871; Guiterman, H., David Roberts, R.A., 1796-1864 London, 1978; Culliford, B. (ed.), David Roberts: From an Antique Land: Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land, New York, 1989; Llewellyn, Briony, 'David Roberts', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 10 December 2003).