Nisbet, Robert Buchan (1857–1942)

Nisbet, Robert Buchan (1857–1942)

Robert Buchan Nisbet captured the wild, ephemeral nature of the Scottish countryside in his emotionally charged, evocatively produced landscapes.

Nisbest grew up in the centre of Scottish art, Edinburgh. Indeed, he seems almost fated to have pursued a career as an artist. His father was a house painter and his brother, Pollok Sinclair Nisbet (1848-1922), was an artist in his own right. As a young man, Nisbet began a career in a shipping office, however he could not fight what nature seemingly ordained. In 1880 he gave up his stable career in order to pursue his passion.

He turned to his brother, Pollok Sinclair Nisbet, for tutelage. It seems the brothers shared a close relationship, despite the difference in age between them, with the elder taking on a mentor role. Nisbet also studied at the Board of Manufactures in Edinburgh, which encouraged the development of fine arts in Scotland, as well as the Royal Scottish Academy. He even travelled to Paris for a time to receive tuition from William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).

The influence of Nisbet’s brother is clear in a number of his works. Pollok Sinclair Nisbet whipped up scenes of the tumultuous Scottish countryside with dramatic splashes of colour and an edge of the romantic which fell in line with Scottish landscape art of the early 19th century. Nisbet carries over this dramatic, effusive use of colour in his own works. Skies are set alight with passionate sunsets and gathering rainclouds are thick swamps of grey, dirtying the canvas. Nisbet, however, also developed his art in line with the growing trend for naturalism. Scottish artists were keen to lose the sense of the unreal which romantic works could sometimes become tinged with and instead base their work firmly in reality. The canvas was a communicator for natural beauty. It did not seek to enhance it with fiction.

Nisbet added an effective, compelling wildness to his work through a process of dabbing and scrubbing at the canvas. Combined with a loose application of paint through broad brushstrokes, this gives the appearance that the scene before Nisbet has simply landed upon his canvas, blown upon its own winds. Bogs sink deep into the canvas, clouds lightly touch its surface. Nisbet’s paintings are compelling through their liveliness. They appear modern, even today. His work has often been compared to those of naturalist virtuosos Peter de Wint (1784-1849) and David Cox (1783-1859).

These emotive works soon earnt Nisbet attention and an esteemed reputation. He exhibited extensively, both within Scotland and further afield, including the Royal Academy. He became a member of various institutions, including the Royal Institute for Painters in Water Colours. One of his works was even purchased for the Tate Gallery in London. Nisbet, however, remained loyal to his homeland of Scotland, and was keen to ensure the celebration and production of Scottish art. He was a founding member and eventually became the second president of the Society of Scottish Artists, founded in 1892.

In his personal life, too, art played a large role. Nisbet married an artist, Margaret Dempster (1863-1935), and together they shared an art studio. They worked side by side on the wilds of the Scottish countryside until Margaret’s death in 1935. Nisbet himself would pass away from a stroke in 1942. His legacy, however, continues through his characteristically compelling landscapes.


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Took up painting professionally. Travelled to Venice, Italy. First exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy.


Studied at the Royal Scottish Academy.


Travelled to Paris. Studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


Work purchased for the Tate collection.


Became a founding member of the Scottish Society of Artists.


Elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.


Became an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy.


Married to Margaret Dempster.


Moved to Dalginross, Crieff, Scotland.


Exhibited at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers by invitation of James Abbott McNeill Whistler.


Became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy.


Wife Margaret Dempster-Nesbit died.


Died in Crieff, Scotland. Buried in Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh.

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