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Robertson, Archibald, 1765–1835
Lessons on drawing, watercolors, and miniatures.
Physical Description:
2 v. ; 42 cm.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
Folio A 2011 16
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Not Evaluated
Archives & Manuscripts
Archibald Robertson, miniature and portrait painter (1765-1835), grew up in Aberdeen and trained in that city, as well as in Edinburgh and London before immigrating to New York in 1791. He and his brother Alexander opened the Columbian Academy of Painting in New York City the following year, one of the first schools of art in the United States. Archibald Robertson compiled an art instruction manual for his students and issued it as Elements of the graphic arts (New York, 1802). Archibald Robertson may also be credited with teaching the technical skills of painting to his brother Andrew (1777-1845), who would later achieve renown as a portrait miniaturist.
The two letters in volume 1 have been published in: Letters and papers of Andrew Robertson, ed. Emily Robertson (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1895).
Selected exhibitions: "Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art" (Yale Center for British Art, 18 April-29 July, 2007); "America Pictured to the Life: Illustrated Works from the Paul Mellon Bequest held at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library" (Beinecke Library, 3 May-31 July, 2002).
Nygren, E.J. Views and visions : American landscape before 1830, p. 286-288
Manuscript instructional material on drawing, watercolors, and miniatures, composed by Archibald Robertson, for the benefit of his brother Andrew Robertson, circa 1797-1803. The drawings and texts are in Archibald Robertson's hand throughout, except for one printed item and 9 pages of drawings by Andrew Robertson. The material is collected in two volumes, the first of which may have been collected by Andrew Robertson's daughter, Emily.
The first manuscript volume comprises four elements: the printed text of Elements of the graphic arts, v. 1 (New York, 1802); two letters from Archibald Robertson to Andrew Robertson; and nine pages of sketches by Andrew Robertson. The copy of Elements of the graphic arts is inscribed: To Mr. Andrew Robertson, from his affectionate brother Archd. Robertson. 79 Liberty Street, New York, Jany 6, 1803. The first of the two letters, 6 pages, dated 25 May 1799, urges Andrew to study certain methods of drawing, and instructs Andrew to retrieve some landscapes from Mr. Jukes in London. The second, 25 pages, dated 25 Sept. 1800, details Archibald's "mode of painting miniatures," including the preparation of the ivories and other materials, the grinding of pigments, the pose of the sitter, colors, and the use of gum arabic. It may not be coincidental that Andrew Robertson gave up practicing medicine about this time, to become an important miniature painter. The 9 pages of sketches by Andrew Robertson, concluding the volume, are preceded by an envelope (now empty) inscribed: "Pencil sketches and scraps, by Andrew Robertson ... from Emily Robertson to her cousin Mrs. S.M. Mygate." This section comprises 23 small graphite sketches, presumably originals for miniature commissions. They include portraits in widely varying states of completion. They are all on small sheets of paper affixed to leaves in the present volume. At the end are two very small copies of an engraved portrait of Sir John Sinclair, after a miniature by Andrew Robertson.
The second manuscript volume comprises: a letter from Archibald Robertson to Andrew Robertson; and two essays, on "The art of sketching" and "On drawing in watercolors." The letter, 2 pages, dated 24 Oct. 1801, serves as an introduction to the volume. It notes: "I have in great haste wrote out the present volume, in hopes that it may be of some use to you. The principles I have attempted to explain cost me nothing but the trouble of writing down, but it has cost me a great deal of trouble to acquire ..." Archibald declares that drawing in watercolor is in its infancy, and that if Andrew gives away his secrets of miniature painting he will regret it.
The first essay, "On the art of sketching" (29 pages), includes instructions on how to draw with a pen and is accompanied by numerous diagrams and examples, entirely in Archibald Robertson's hand. Seven of the pen and ink drawings are executed on separate sheets of half-size paper, dated from 1797 to 1799. These include drawings of the Second River (New Jersey), Roxbury, the Merrimac River, the Bay of New York, and West Point & the Narrows of the Hudson River. In the second essay, "On drawing in watercolors" (also 29 pages), Robertson explains various types of shading, with a wet and a dry brush, and gives detailed instructions on how to draw trees. It includes many illustrations and examples, in various degrees of watercolor, all executed on the pages of the volume itself. It is possible that the essays in the second volume were intended as a sequel (never published) to Robertson's Elements of the graphic arts.
Subject Terms:
Drawing -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Drawing -- Technique.
Landscape painting -- Technique.
Miniature painters -- Great Britain.
Miniatures (Paintings) -- Technique.
Painting -- History.
Robertson, Andrew, 1777-1845 -- Correspondence.
Robertson, Archibald, 1765-1835 -- Correspondence.
Robertson, Archibald, 1765-1835. Elements of the graphic arts.
Robertson, Emily.
Watercolor painting -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Watercolor painting -- Technique.
Handbooks and manuals.
Drawing books.
Ink drawings.
Graphite drawings.
Robertson, Andrew, 1777-1845.
Robertson, Emily.

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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