Littleport Bridge, an illustration
R. W. Macbeth was a painter of genre and outdoor contemporary scenes, often of the countryside and the people working there. However, he is better known as a prolific illustrator, mainly for the Graphic. He was born in Glasgow, the son of the Scottish portraitist Norman Macbeth RSA, coming to London after studying at the RSA Schools. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1871, became ARA in 1883 and RA in 1903, and apparently was greatly influenced by Frederick Walker.
Macbeth's illustrations show a variety of styles, some almost Pre-Raphaelite, others rather more humble, and his compositions vary from very strong to totally uninspired. They look best on a small scale, where his figures and animals - especially dogs and horses - are lively and well-captured in action. The full-page illustrations he made tend to show a lack of draughtsmanship, and the faces of his subjects look too blank of expression.
Regarding Macbeth's paintings, perhaps his best are those showing women and children at work, done with a classical treatment - for example, At Liberty, A Lincolnshire Gang (1877), Potato Harvest in the Fens (1878), Sedge Cutters (1878), and Sheep Shearing in the Fens (1889). Macbeth also produced other good outdoors paintings, such as Diana and Bathers at a River Bank (1906). Apart from a variety of genre scenes depicting coaches, hunting, trials in court etc., Macbeth was not above producing appalling pictures of kindly old ladies and little girls.
Sheep Shearing in the Fens is in Aberdeen, and The Ferry is at the Glasgow art gallery. Several of Macbeth's etchings were reproduced in the Magazine of Art.
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