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Alexander Runciman

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Title: Alexander Runciman  
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Subject: Scottish art, Scottish art in the eighteenth century, John Brown (artist), Edinburgh College of Art, Canongate Kirkyard
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Alexander Runciman

Alexander Runciman (Edinburgh 15 August 1736 – 4 October 1785 Edinburgh) was a Scottish painter of historical and mythological subjects. He was the elder brother of John Runciman, also a painter.

Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus, circa 1773, Tate Gallery.

He was born in Edinburgh, and studied at Foulis's Academy, Glasgow, and from 1750 to 1762 he was apprenticed to the landscape painter Robert Norie, later becoming a partner in the Norie family firm. He also worked as a stage painter for the Edinburgh Theatre.

In 1767, he went to Rome, where he spent five years. His brother John accompanied him, but died in Naples in the winter of 1768–69. During Runciman's stay in Italy he became acquainted with other artists such as Henry Fuseli and the sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. Runciman's earliest efforts had been in landscape; he now turned to historical and imaginative subjects, exhibiting his Nausicaa at Play with her Maidens in 1767 at the Free Society of British Artists, Edinburgh.

On his return from Italy after a brief time in London, where in 1772 he exhibited in the Royal Academy, he settled in Edinburgh, and was appointed master of the Trustees' Academy. He was patronised by Sir James Clerk, whose hall at Penicuik House he decorated with a series of subjects from Ossian. He also created various religious paintings and an altar-piece in the Cowgate Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, and easel pictures of Cymon and Iphigenia, Sigismunda Weeping over the Heart of Tancre, and Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus.

He enjoyed a strong reputation as a landscape painter is his lifetime. Some of his works, due to their spontaneity, vigour of style and colour, and unorthodox composition, place him as an early exponent of modern art.

Keith Ralph studied under Alexander Runciman.

Runciman died in Edinburgh and is buried in Canongate Churchyard. The grave is unmarked but a stone plaque was erected by the RSA in 1866 on the west-facing wall of the church to his memory (also commemorating his brother John who died in Naples).



  • Duncan Macmillan, "Runciman, Alexander (1736–1785)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 25 June 2007
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