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Caw, J. L.

    Full Name: Caw, J. L.

    Other Names:

    • James Lewis Caw

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1864

    Date Died: 1950

    Place Born: St. Quivox, Ayr, Scotland, UK

    Place Died: Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom


    Director of the Scottish National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, 1907-1930. Caw was born to James Caw, a draper and Eliza Murray Greenfield (Caw). After attending Ayr Academy, Caw apprenticed in engineering at the West of Scotland Technical College, Ayr between 1883 until 1887 with the intention of becoming an engineer. In 1883 met Sir James Guthrie (1859-1920), and artist and later president of the Scottish Royal Academy. The following year Caw began his career as an art critic, striking up friendships with the Scottish art community, including Sir James Lawton Wingate (1846 – 1924), president of the Royal Scottish Academy, the artists Edward Arthur Walton (1860 – 1922), Alexander Roche (1863-1921), and William McTaggart (1835-1910), the latter the pioneer of Scottish impressionism. Caw worked as a draughtsman in Glasgow from 1887 to 1889 and then in Edinburgh beginning in 1889, continuing to study science courses intermittently at Heriot-Watt College and art at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy School of Art. In 1895, Caw’s painting and art criticism were well enough known to gain him an appointment as curator of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. He organized the museum, combining the collections into a cohesive exhibition of Scottish portrait history. A monograph on Sir Henry Raeburn written together with Sir Walter Armstrong (1850-1918) appeared in 1901. In 1907 Caw became the first director of both the National Galleries of Scotland and the Portrait Gallery, appointing Stanley Cursiter as the Gallery’s curator. The two set out a program of acquisitions that deepened the scope of both institutions. Caw’s interest in the range of art periods led to astute purchases in works ranging from the so-called “Italian primitives” to post-Impressionism. Paul Gauguin’s spectacular Vision after the Sermon (“Jacob and the Angel”) and Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte were acquired by Caw for the museum in 1925 alone. In 1908, Caw published his Scottish Painting, 1620-1908 a serious study of his country’s art. He married McTaggert’s daughter, Anne “Annie” Mary McTaggert (1864-1949) in 1909. He joined The Scotsman newspaper as art critic in 1916 remaining until 1933. His book on McTaggert, William McTaggart was published in 1917. He retired from the national galleries in 1930 and was knighted in 1931. A book on Sir James Guthrie appeared in 1932 and another Allan Ramsay in 1937. Though retired, he organized the exhibition of Scottish art at the Royal Academy, London, with Cursiter in 1939. He sat on the editorial committee of the Burlington Magazine and the Walpole Society. He died at his home in Midlothian at the end of 1950. His paintings hang in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Caw championed an appreciation of Scottish art as an important expression of national identity (Mackenzie). His balance view of the art of Scotland was written without the traditional apology for its development.

    Selected Bibliography

    Hours in the Scottish National Gallery (Edinburgh). London: Duckworth, 1927; Scottish Painting, Past and Present, 1620-1908. Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1908; and Armstrong, Walter. Sir Henry Raeburn. London: W. Heinemann, 1901.


    Mackenzie, Jill C. “Caw, James Lewis.” Dictionary of National Biography; Baile de Laperriere, Charles.ed., Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1971-1989: a Dictionary of Artists and their Work in the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts. Wiltshire, England: Hilmarton Manor Press, 1989, vol. 1, pp. 291-292; Lloyd Williams, Julia. National Gallery of Scotland: Concise Catalogue of Paintings. Edinburgh: National Gallery of Scotland,1997; Smailes, The Concise Catalogue of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1990); “Mr. James L. Caw.” The Burlington Magazine 57, no. 331 (October 1930): 202; [obituary:] “Sir James Caw Champion Of Scottish Painting.” The Times (London), December 7, 1950, p. 6.


    "Caw, J. L.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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