James Pittendrigh Macgillivray


B/W Sketch of James Pittendrigh Macgillivray, 'Baillie', 3 February 1892, cartoon supplement, p.5

Aberdeenshire-born James Pittendrigh Macgillivray (1856–1937) was described in an obituary as 'Scotland's greatest sculptor'. 1 His father, William, was a sculptor and in 1868 moved the family to Edinburgh, where James began an apprencticeship with William Brodie the following year. On completion of his apprenticeship in 1875, James became first an assistant to James Steel and then to John Mossman in Glasgow. There, in 1882, he began work on his own account. In 1893 he made a study tour to Brussels before returning to Edinburgh where he spent the rest of his life.

He worked prolifically in a variety of materials earning many commissions, particularly in the 1890s and 1900s, and exhibited frequently across Scotland and in London from the early 1870s until the early 1930s. Glasgow work included likenesses of painter Joseph Crawhall and writer Thomas Carlyle, and monuments at the Necropolis, Cathcart and Lambhill cemeteries and in Glasgow Cathedral. 2 Large-scale public works in Edinburgh included six statues for the facade of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; John Knox at St Giles (1906); and the nationally significant nine-figure monument to William Gladstone (1904–13). He made a monument to Robert Burns for Irvine (1894–5); sculpture at Dumfries Public Library (1904); and a monument to Lord Byron for Aberdeen (1911).

He received many awards and official posts. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1901, nine years after becoming an associate. In 1921 he was appointed King's Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland (sometimes referred to as Sculptor Royal). 3 As such he served on the first Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland alongside architect Sir Robert Lorimer. 4 He was also an honorary fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects, Scotland, among other organisations.

Macgillivray was a significant figure in the development of art education in the early years of the 20th century: in 1903 following a tour to Rome, Florence and Brussels, the Scotch Education Department commissioned him to write a report on art school teaching and suggest improvements to facilities. Declaring existing schools unsatisfactory and insisting on practical training in craftsmanship, his report resulted in the establishment of Edinburgh College of Art for which he drew up plans. 5

Macgillivray was a verstile artist and had many interests. In Glasgow he dedicated much time to painting and was closely associated with the Glasgow Boys. A result of this was the founding in 1888 with painter Robert Macaulay Stevenson of the short-lived periodical, Scottish Art Review. In later life he published two volumes of poetry in Scots: the second of these included characteristic outspoken criticism of establishment institutions, in this case the Royal Scottish Academy. With the assistance of the the Fourth Marquis of Bute, a friend and patron, he designed and built his own home in Edinburgh, which included a studio with direct access to the outdoors. He wrote and presented papers which often displayed his commitment to Scottish nationalism, was a playwright, a musician, and an authority on clans and tartans. He married Polish-born Frieda Rettig Röhl (d. 1910) and was the father of two daughters. 6


1: Scotsman, 9 August 1938, p. 8.

2: Scotsman, 2 March 1895, p. 11.

3: Scotsman, 7 June 1921, p. 5; Edinburgh Gazette, 24 June 1924, p. 1053.

4: Edinburgh Gazette, 26 August 1927, pp. 989–90.

5: Scotsman, 7 January 1909, p. 7; R. L. Woodward, 'Pittendrigh MacGillivray', in Virtue and Vision: Sculpture and Scotland, 1540–1990, Fiona Pearson, ed., Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1991, pp. 99–103.

6: Robin L. Woodward, 'MacGillivray, (James) Pittendrigh (1856–1938)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49240 [accessed 24 June 2014]; Gary Nisbet, 'James Pittendrigh Macgillivray', in Ray McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002, p. 490; R. L. Woodward, 'Pittendrigh MacGillivray', Fiona Pearson, ed., Virtue and Vision: Sculpture and Scotland, 1540–1990, Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1991, pp. 99–103; Jennifer Melville, Pittendrigh Macgillivray, Aberdeen: Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1988.