Artist biography

Scottish painter, educationalist, theorist and designer. The son of a lecturer in medicine at Marischal College, Aberdeen, he studied medicine and theology, obtaining his Master's degree in 1823. His early interest in art found an outlet in portraiture.

The paintings that caused Dyce to be labelled controversially ‘the British Nazarene' date from the mid 1840s. These works are characterised by a clarity of form, a Neo-classical sharpness of line and a contemporary approach to biblical history (e.g. Gethsemane is located in a Scottish glen).

Although Dyce's output of easel paintings was small, he was a genuine polymath with a strong sense of public duty. His easel paintings provided relief from his other activities.

Concern about Britain's failure to produce designers adequate to her manufacturing potential resulted in the foundation of the first British government-sponsored School of Design (in London) with Dyce as Superintendent. The dispute between the fine art and the industrial model was fierce. This dispute has never been fully resolved. In 1843 Dyce resigned in frustration, hoping to devote more time to his art.

Dyce was involved in the fresco revival in England from the start. When the competition for the decoration of the new Palace of Westminster was held in 1843, Dyce, probably the only man in Britain with a technical knowledge of fresco, was an obvious choice. He collapsed at work in the winter of 1863 with the final fresco unfinished. The contents of his studio were auctioned at Christie's on 5 May 1865.

J. C. Dafforne: ‘William Dyce, RA', A. J. [London] (1860), pp. 293–6
M. Pointon: William Dyce, 1806–64; A Critical Biography (Oxford, 1979) [incl. cat. rais.]
C. Willsdon: ‘Dyce “in camera”: New Evidence of his Working Methods', Burl. Mag. (Nov 1990), pp. 760–65
L. Errington: ‘Ascetics and Sensualists: William Dyce's Views on Christian Art', Burl. Mag. (Aug 1992), pp. 491–7


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