Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1792 - 1871. Geologist

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Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1792 - 1871. Geologist Published 1851
  • Scottish Art
Sir Roderick Impey Murchison was the renowned geologist who identified the Silurian system. An important milestone in geology, it established the oldest fossil-bearing bedrock then known. After an unpromising start in life, Murchison’s fortunes changed in 1825 when he was admitted into the Royal Institution as a fellow of the Geological Society. He quickly became one of the most prominent members of the Society. In this fine mezzotint a copy of his book "The Silurian System" can be seen resting on his lap. However, Murchison is perhaps best known for his contribution to British imperial expansion. As president of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), which he helped found, he was able to shape much of Britain’s overseas research effort, both in the official empire and beyond. David Livingstone dedicated his best-selling "Missionary Travels" (1857) to him in recognition of the powerful influence which he commanded in London’s scientific and political communities. Today more than twenty geographical features around the world are named in Murchison’s honour.

Glossary Open


Mezzotint is a method of producing prints that was developed in the seventeenth century. A metal printing plate is roughened by scratching a tool across the surface to leave an even burr. When ink is applied to the plate, the burr holds it, and if a sheet in this state is printed at this stage, the resulting impression is entirely black. An image is created by smoothing parts of the abraded surface so that when ink is applied, the smoother areas do not have such a strong ink-holding capacity, and therefore do no leave such a dark impression. A mezzotint printmaker, therefore, works from dark to create light. Mezzotint produces high quality prints, as it allows for fine and subtle tones to be developed.

Royal Geographical Society

The Geographical Society of London was founded in 1830 as an institution to promote the advancement of geographical science. The Society’s purpose remains the same today as when it was first founded. The history of the Society was closely allied for many of its earlier years with colonial exploration in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Polar Regions, and central Asia especially. It is synonymous with such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary.

Royal Institution

Founded in Edinburgh in 1819, the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland was a privately funded and largely aristocratic body, modelled on the British Institution in London. The Royal Institution (RI) initially staged exhibitions of Old Master paintings, but from 1821 to 1830 it also mounted contemporary exhibitions to stimulate patronage for modern Scottish art. The RI’s fifth exhibition occupied a new building dedicated to the arts on The Mound. This building, originally named the Royal Institution, was shared with other bodies and learned societies. It is now called the Royal Scottish Academy building. In the 1820s the RI began to form a national collection of paintings, most of which was later housed in the adjacent National Gallery of Scotland.

Mezzotint, Royal Geographical Society, Royal Institution


  • Acc. No. SP VI 91.2
  • Medium Mezzotint on paper
  • Size 35.56 x 28.91 cm
  • Credit Purchased 1936