Born in Dundee in 1800, Simson trained under Andrew Wilson, Master at the Trustees' Academy. In 1825 he signed the proposal to establish a Scottish Academy, and became one of its first academicians. Before the new body could host its first exhibition, Simson withdrew his membership. Once the two institutions had merged to form the Royal Scottish Academy in 1829, he exhibited. He was a versatile painter of landscapes and costal scenes, sporting pictures and historical genre, in which he was influenced by David Wilkie. He visited Italy in 1835, returning to Britain in 1838 and settling in London. There, he devoted his time to subjects that included figures, and exhibited at both the Royal Academy and the British Institution. He died in Chlesea in 1847.