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Art in Scotland
Thomas Fairbairn

Born, 1821; died, October 1885.

Compared with England, Scotland cannot, in the list of deceased artists, name a proportionate number of painters in watercolour. Fairbairn, who was one of these, was a native of Glasgow, where he very early lost his father, after which his mother earned a subsistence from the profits of a spirit-shop in High Street. He was a shop-lad with Brand & Mollison, dyers; and his art education was condensed into an attendance of three months at an evening class, opened by Gilfillan, which only lasted for that time. So enthusiastic was he in the practice of his art, that all his spare hours were devoted to study at home, often till long after midnight. On leaving his situation, he rented a small room in Exchange Place, where his success in painting and giving lessons enabled him to get married, after which he removed to West Regent Street. He left Glasgow for Hamilton about 1850, where he resided till his death, excepting an occasional excursion.

His settlement at Hamilton was no doubt mainly owing to its proximity to the grand old forest of Cadzow, the magnificent oak- trees in which constitute it a perfect paradise for a painter of woodland scenery: it was a favourite haunt of many Scottish landscape-painters, such as Horatio MacCulloch and Sam Bough, the latter of whom more particularly was an associate there of Fair- bairn. Few water-colour painters of his time excelled Fairbairn in his delineation of forest scenery; he was a literal reproducer of nature in this form in its best aspects, and not a translator—one of the most heinous crimes in the eyes of a modern impressionist. From Hamilton he made occasional excursions to England for sketching purposes, where his works were much more appreciated and in greater demand than in Scotland.

About the year 1871 he began to suffer from a partial paralysis of the lower limbs, which incapacitated him from doing outside work, during which time he lay prostrate, always full of enthusiasm for art, and the patience of a true Christian, resigned and cheerful under the trying circumstances. A partial recovery, after about seven years' confinement, enabled him to resume his study from nature, when he painted some of his best works— more tender in colour and softer in manipulation than his earlier pictures. Soon after the beginning of his illness, an exhibition of his works was projected by his old friends Mr John Mossman and Mr Robert Greenlees, which was eminently successful. After his death, his remaining sketches were disposed of for the benefit of his widow. He is most popularly known by his sketches of old houses and localities about Glasgow, which were published in lithographic form. The series of his own drawings were acquired by the Corporation of Glasgow for their galleries. He painted no large pictures, and, like nearly all water-colour painters, was not successful in oil. His sudden death, hastened by fatiguing efforts in the aid of a church bazaar, occurred on the opening day of one of the exhibitions of the Water-Colour Society of Glasgow.

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