JAMES GILES (1801-1870)
Study of a 'Panther'
Height: 49.0 cm
Width: 59.0 cm
JAMES WILLIAM GILES, RSA (1801-1870)
Signed ‘J Giles’ and dated 1855, lower left
Oil on board
Unframed: 13¾ x 18 in (34.9 x 45.7cm)
Framed: 19¼ x 23¼ in (49 x 59 cm)
Inscribed with the title on the reverse
A native of Aberdeen, Giles was painting portraits and images of animals on snuff boxes by the age of 13 and by 1820 he was teaching public drawing classes in Aberdeen. His first known sketch from nature, St Machar’s Cathedral, dates from this time and was later lithographed and published. He combined teaching with a study of anatomy and spent the summers sketching in the central and western highlands.
In 1823, after marrying Clementina Farquharson, he received his first official training in art, first in London, and then, in 1824, in Paris under Regnault. Giles spent the next year travelling in Italy, visiting Genoa, Florence, Sienna and Rome before returning in 1825 via the Italian lakes, Switzerland and the Rhine. On this Grand Tour of sorts, he completed over 1,000 watercolour sketches as well as 40 copies of other famous works. A selection of these was shown at the Ashmolean Museum in 1970 where they were said to ‘remind one of Turner at his best and boldest’ (Sparrow).
In 1826, Giles returned to Aberdeen, becoming increasingly known to a number of local Lairds, many of them introduced to him by his friend Hugh Irvine of Drum. He also developed an interest in landscape gardening and in 1830 advised the 4th Earl of Aberdeen regarding policies at Haddo House. In 1827 he and Archibald Simpson founded the Aberdeen Artists’ Society and in 1829 he became one of the 24 original full members of the RSA, exhibiting 304 paintings there during his lifetime. In 1852 he was invited to submit perspective drawings for Balmoral Castle and many Royal commissions followed, including landscaping at Balmoral. It is said he twice refused a knighthood.
Giles was a close friend of Landseer and accompanied him on various sketching trips. His reputation rests mainly on his paintings of deer and the landscape of upper Deeside, especially stalking scenes around Braemar. The Earl of Aberdeen commissioned 85 drawings subsequently published in 1936 as Drawings of Aberdeenshire Castles. He is also known for designing the sculpture group Demeter that now adorns the roof of the Clydesdale Bank in Castle Street, Aberdeen, damask table linen for Queen Victoria and the deer park at Haddo House. He also painted a number of portraits and at least 5 self-portraits.