John MacWhirter was born near Edinburgh and studied at the Trustees’ Academy. Here he formed a lifelong friendship with fellow student William McTaggart, whose artistic influence can be seen in MacWhirter’s later work. He travelled extensively, visiting Germany, Austria, Italy and Norway, where he painted local scenery and plant life. He also painted romantic views of the Scottish Highlands, Islands and Lochs. MacWhirter moved to London in 1869 and was to gain a considerable reputation as a watercolourist and oil painter.