William Craig Shirreff Mary, Queen of Scots Escaping from Lochleven Castle 1805


Born 1786
Died 1805
Nationality Scottish

Shirreff was born in Haddington, the son of an East Lothian farmer. He entered the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh in 1802, at the time when John Graham was master. Graham introduced oil painting into the curriculum, and also initiated a scheme of premiums for the best historical paintings. In 1805, Shirreff won the top prize for his first major attempt at history painting using oil paint. The picture is now in the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection (NG 2255). Sadly, and aged only eighteen, Sherriff died of consumption before the prize was awarded. It was bestowed posthumously.

Glossary terms

Glossary terms

History Painting

A term used to refer to images of important or memorable episodes from literary, historical or religious sources. These works are often large-scale and include complex arrangements of figures and objects in a landscape or architectural setting. Historically, it was revered as the highest form of painting.