Aitken AHRA RSW, James Alfred (1846-1897)

Aitken AHRA RSW, James Alfred (1846-1897)

James Alfred Aitken was an accomplished Scottish landscape painter working predominantly in oils and watercolours. He trained under Horatio McCulloch and became an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy and a member of the Royal Scottish Association of Painters in Water-Colour. His works are held in numerous public collections including at the Royal Collection Trust.


Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Hibernian Academy, Glasgow Institute, Royal Scottish Association of Painters in Water-Colour.

Public Collections

Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Royal Collection Trust, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.



Born in Edinburgh to John Watson Aitken, a temperance hotel proprietor, and Margaret Aitken (nee Wishart).


Lived in Glasgow.


Married Annie Hamilton Miller in Glasgow.


Lived in Glasgow.


Travelled to New York.


Reviewed in the Glasgow Herald following an exhibition at the Royal Scottish Association of Painters in Water-Colour.

“Alfred Aitken, for whom the grandeur of Scottish scenery has an abiding charm, contributes a number of drawings full of local colour. Mr Aitken's work this year is exceedingly good.”


Died in Glasgow.

Obituary in the Glasgow Herald.

“The death of Mr James Alfred Aitken will be deeply regretted by a wide circle of friends in art and also in commerce. He passed away yesterday morning at his residence, Blythswood Square. For some time he had not been in robust health, but his illness assumed an alarm. He was lacking form only a few days since, aside by pneumonia, complicated by an affection of the heart, and the end was reached all too soon. He had only attained his 51st year. Mr Aitken was born in Edinburgh. His father was a temperance hotel proprietor, who carried on business in three establishments, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin.

James Alfred received his ordinary education in the Irish capital, and his devotion to art coming to be early recognised, he pursued his studies in this direction also, while still with family in Dublin. We are probably correct, however, in supposing that his sympathies lay in Scotland, its schools and its scenery, thirty years ago he removed to Glasgow. Here he came under the influence of Horatio McCulloch, a Glasgow artist, whose landscapes are still recognised as amongst the best of their kind. He also sought the teaching and guidance of Edinburgh.

Thus equipped, and with ready appreciation of the beauties of Scottish landscape, he speedily acquired a high reputation in art. Added to a keen eye for form and colour, he had the somewhat rare quality of imagination. His gifts were chiefly exercised in the Highlands. His pictures were not merely technically satisfying. They appealed to the many as well as to the educated few, and for a series of years no artist's work was in greater demand. A good deal in recent years he travelled the New as well as the Old World, home to many interesting examples, some of which were brought in a special exhibition in Glasgow. Later Mr Aitken painted chiefly in water-colours, several of his drawings being shown in the recent exhibition of the Royal Scottish Water-Colour Society.

Personally, Mr Aitken was highly esteemed for his frankness, his kindliness of heart, his quick sympathy with distress in any form. While an artist in colour first, he interested himself in all forms of art, the higher drama, and the literature of the day. Early in life he became an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and he was one of the founders of the Royal Scottish Water-Colour Society. Mr Aitken's death is lamented by his widow, to whose devotion he owed much of the happiness of his life.”


Advertisement in the Glasgow Herald regarding a posthumous sale of pictures by Walter J Buchanan.

“Sale of pictures. Mr Walter J. Buchanan will sell by auction tomorrow, in his Renfield Street Gallery, a collection of pictures in oil and water-colours by James Alfred Aitken. The works are one hundred in number, water-colour drawings predominating. Mr Aitken finds his subjects near and afar. He paints the beauties of the Highlands, and the primitive dwellings of cottars and fisher folks. In the English Lake District he also finds ample material to work on.

He goes to the Mediterranean, and makes pictures of its coastlines and islands and sunlit waters. Voyaging to America, he travels through the Rockies; and, crossing to Canada, he wanders beyond the beaten track in search of subjects, and finds them. His drawings are exceedingly fine. Mr Aitken does not confine his best art to large pictures; some of the smallest are gems of colour and delicacy. He works also with charcoal with great freedom and strength; witness his ‘Lord of the Mist,’ or his ‘Glencoe.’ The pictures are on view today.”

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