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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Nasmyth, Alexander (1758-1840)

Son of an Edinburgh architect and house-builder, Michael Nasmyth Alexander took an interest in drawing at an early age. He was sent to the Edinburgh Academy of Art and studied under Alexander Runciman. When he was seventeen, he studied under Allan Ramsay in London, and later visited Rome. On his return to Edinburgh, he painted various members of the aristocracy and helped Patrick Miller of Dalswinton as a draughtsman when Miller was carrying out his mechanical and marine experiments. Burns's publisher, Creech, asked Nasmyth to paint a portrait of the poet to illustrate the first Edinburgh Edition, a service which the painter performed gratis. Burns visited Nasmyth frequently at his studio in Wardrop's Court. The portrait was given to John Beugo to engrave, but Nasmyth was displeased with the result, much preferring another engraving done by Walker. The original by Nasmyth was given to Burns, whose son, Colonel William Nicol Burns, presented it to the Scottish National Gallery, where it now hangs. Nasmyth made two duplicates of it; one is in the National Portrait Gallery, London, the other in Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow.

Poet and painter frequently went walking together to Arthur's Scat, the Braid Hills and the Pentlands. Forty years after Burns's death, Nasmyth did a full-length portrait of the poet for Lockhart's Life of Burns. Writing from Ellisland to Beugo on 9th September 1788, Burns remarked. 'If you see Mr Naesmith, remember me to him most respectfully, as he both loves and deserves respect; tho', if he would pay less respect to the mere Carcase of Greatness, I should think him much nearer perfection.'

Nasmyth latterly gave up portrait-painting in favour of landscape, and scene-painting which included the stock scenery for Glasgow's Theatre Royal, and in 1820, the scenery for 'The Heart of Midlothian' in the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. He was also an expert in landscape gardening. The temple of Hygiea at St Bernard's Well was built from his design, and the original design of the Dean Bridge was also his. He was an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and presided at the dinner given by the Academicians to Sir Henry Raeburn when that distinguished painter was knighted.

Nasmyth's eldest son, Patrick, and his daughter, Anne, were also painters. His youngest child, James, was an inventor, the steam hammer being one of his achievements.

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...

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Burns Chess Sets

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