William Dennistoun (1839-1884) and the Glasgow Art Club. Part 1.

Figure 1. The Glasgow Art Club. 185 Bath Street Glasgow. Photograph: G. Manzor    

This is another departure from normally writing about individuals who have benefited Glasgow in some way although some of our benefactors used dubious and unacceptable means to do so, the tobacco lords being a clear example of that through their exploitation of slavery in the American Colonies, and in some cases, the ownership of enslaved Africans.

Organisations also brought benefit to the city, one such being the Glasgow Art Club which was founded in 1867, the founding members being William Dennistoun, Duncan McLaurin, Robert Munro, William Young, James Leslie, Peter S. Buchanan, Robert McEwan, David Murray, Robert Tennant, Hugh Breckenridge and James Cowan although it is generally accepted that the key individual in the club’s formation was William Dennistoun.[1]

My objective in this post is give some biographical notes on William Dennistoun and to relate some of the club’s history.

Dennistoun is a surname, the origins of which, can be traced back to the 11th century. More recent Dennistouns have included those of Colgrain, Dennistoun and Golfhill, Alexander Dennistoun of that ilk being the founder of the suburb of Glasgow named after him.

I initially believed that William Dennistoun belonged to the Colgrain branch, however that proved to be an uncertain, probably false trail and I have not been able subsequently to establish which branch of the family he belonged to.

However this much is known. His paternal grandfather, also William, married Agnes Baird in 1780.[2] She was the daughter of James Baird of Cadder and Margaret Henderson of Cumbernauld.[3] [4] William and Agnes had seven children, Agnes, Mary, Janet, James, John, Christian,[5] and the last born, Ebenezer, in 1798 in the Barony parish,[6] was the father of William.

His maternal grandfather was William Burns born in 1781,[7] the son of John Burns, a weaver from Kilsyth, and Isabel Muir, the daughter of agricultural labourer George Muir of Barony parish.[8] William Burns married Mary Adam in 1808[9] and had eight children, four girls and four boys.[10] The eldest girl and their second child Elizabeth, born in 1811, was William’s mother.[11]

Ebenezer Dennistoun married twice, his first wife, in 1828, being Jean McNicol,  Ebenezer’s occupation given as clerk.[12] They had two children, a boy named William, born in 1829,[13] and a girl named Jean Galbraith.[14] Sometime after daughter Jean’s birth in 1831, his wife died, when has not been established. It also seems that daughter Jean died as an infant although again no date of death has been found. As for son William he died in 1837, cause of death being given as “water in head”.[15]

Ebenezer married Elizabeth Burns in 1834, his occupation being given as wright.[16] They had eight children,[17] James, Elizabeth, William, the subject of this report who was born in 1839,[18] Agnes Baird, an unnamed female child who was still born in 1842,[19] Jean Burns, Mary and Janet. Three of the girls, Agnes, Mary and Janet all died between two and five years of age, Mary dying on the same day as her mother Elizabeth in June 1851, pulmonary tuberculosis and tabes mesenterica (a form of tuberculosis affecting lymph nodes) being the respective causes of death.[20]

The family in 1841 consisting of Ebenezer, Elizabeth and children James, Elizabeth, William and two month old Agnes, were living in North Portland Street in Glasgow, Ebenezer still working as a wright.[21] In 1851 he was an employer of three men and described as a wood merchant, his place of business being 29 Jackson Street.[22] What caused the transition from employee to employer? Perhaps the answer lies with the previous business that was located at 29 Jackson Street, John Bannerman and Sons.

John Bannerman started out as a joiner in the High Street around 1803,[23] brought his sons into the business circa 1821[24], subsequently identifying themselves as trunk and packing case makers located at 53 Candleriggs. In 1838 the business moved to 29 Jackson Street, describing itself as wrights and timber merchants, continuing however to carry out trunk making in the Candleriggs.[25] It seems possible therefore that Ebenezer was employed by them as a wright at least from that date, or perhaps just before. What gives that credence is that Bannerman’s last entry in the Glasgow Directory was in 1848-49,[26] the following year the directory entry at that address was for Ebenezer as a timber merchant.[27]

This change, presumably improving the family’s financial situation, did not result in the family moving from North Portland Street. There were three additional girls in the family by 1851, Jean, Mary and Janet, however as related above daughter Agnes had died in infancy in 1843 age two.[28] Sister Janet died in 1854 at the age of five.[29] Ebenezer continued as a timber merchant until 1856, the last year he appeared in the Glasgow Directory.[30] In the 1861 census his occupation was given as ‘shipping clerk’.[31]

Ebenezer died in 1863 at his then home 49 Duke Street, cause of death given as phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis),[32] which is what his wife Elizabeth had died from. The family clearly had a disposition for this particular illness, one which in due course would also cause William serious difficulty and eventually shorten his life.

It has not been established where William attended school however he began to attend classes at the Mechanics Institute given by A.D. Robertson, subsequently going to the Glasgow School of Art in Ingram Street, which had started life in 1845 as the Glasgow Government School of Design. He and his friends had the benefit of being tutored by Robert Greenlees, an artist of exceptional skill in both watercolour and oil. Greenlees became head of the school in 1863 and was a founder member of the Royal Society of Watercolourists.[33]

The origins of the Art Club lie in Dennistoun’s desire to join with his like-minded friends to discuss, compare and share artistic skills and knowledge. The first manifestation of this was the forming of the George Street Literary and Artists Association in 1853 with James Cowan who was just over a year older, then shortly afterwards, including Cowan’s cousin Robert Cowan and William Watson. The association lasted until 1857, its membership never exceeding the four original members. Shortly afterwards Dennistoun had to quit Glasgow due to health issues which plagued him for the rest of his life, moving to Old Kilpatrick.[34]

Figure 2. William Dennistoun. Courtesy of Glasgow Art Club.

Around 1858/1859, he became apprenticed to architect James Salmon, in the 1861 census being described as an architectural draughtsman.[35] Looking at his later church paintings his architectural training is clearly evident by his clear and precise representation of the interiors of church buildings.

In due course some of Denniston’s circle of friends began to meet at his home in Old Kilpatrick to discuss and share their artistic experiences and to sketch, in particular James Cowan and William Young. These gatherings grew, with some being held in Mrs Black’s coffee house at 35 Candleriggs in Glasgow. These meetings were the catalyst for the eventual formation of the Art Club.[36]

Figure 3. William Dennistoun’s Old Kilpatrick residence in ‘Stark’s Land. From ‘ Glasgow’s Treasure Chest’ by James Cowan, ‘Peter Prowler’. Published June 1951, page 229.

James Cowan’s son, also James and known as ‘Peter Prowler’ of the Glasgow Evening Citizen, wrote in 1936 about the Art Club and its creation. In his article he related the story of the genesis of the club, identifying the founders, his father being one but refraining from mentioning that fact. It also included an image of Dennistoun’s residence in Stark’s Land in Old Kilpatrick, and indicating the room in which the seeds of the club germinated.[37]

Although a frequent visitor to Old Kilpatrick James Cowan managed to miss the two meetings the first of which discussed the setting up of the club, the second during which it was agreed to established it. Apparently they coincided with his courting nights with his lady friend Miss Catherine Boyd, whom he subsequently married. Those who were present however considered that Cowan, and David Murray, who had also missed the meetings, were present and deemed them founder members. At the last of these meetings Dennistoun became the first president of the club, William Young being chosen as the secretary and treasurer.[38]

Figure 4. From the Glasgow Post Office Directory 1868-69. Appendix p. 194

The first formal monthly meeting took place on the 30th November 1867, held in the Waverley Temperance Hotel at 185 Buchanan Street. The initial cost of membership was two shillings and sixpence which defrayed the costs of tea and cake and the expenses involved in setting up the club. For some time after monthly costs per member amounted to four and a half pence with the room costs being two shillings per meeting.[39]

Initially the members of the club would contribute drawings to a portfolio which would be circulated and critiqued at the monthly meetings, apparently with some vigour and no holds barred. Their first entry into the Glasgow Post Office Directory stated that the club’s objective was ‘the study of art, which is promoted by the circulation monthly among its members of a book of original sketches, and by criticism thereon, and by conversations and readings of essays on subjects connected with art.[40] As membership grew that activity became impractical and was discontinued after seven years, at which time in 1873 the club held its first annual exhibition of members work in McClure’s gallery in Gordon Street.[41] In 1876 the directory entry now stated that the club’s objective was ‘the study and advancement of art in Glasgow and the West of Scotland’. This was to be achieved through life and sketching classes and an annual exhibition of works by its members.[42]

The club’s second exhibition in 1874 was held in John Fisher’s gallery in Renfield Street and according to an article in the Glasgow Herald of the 1st December the one hundred and thirty one paintings on display generally were an improvement on the previous year, the writer stating that ‘there is, on the whole, abundant evidence of the fine feeling and skilful handling of the true artist’.[43] However, in a rather odd article in the Herald a few weeks before, (17th October) the writer, whilst reviewing an art exhibition held by the Liverpool Art Club, bemoaned the fact that there was no similar club in Glasgow to hold such exhibitions![44]

In the 1875 exhibition Dennistoun’s painting ‘The Choir, Antwerp Cathedral’ was described as being ‘remarkable for delicate colouring and the skilful combination of the graceful lines and curves of the interior’.[45] Again in 1876, the exhibition this time being held in Annan’s gallery in Sauchiehall Street, Dennistoun’s watercolour of ‘Duomo, Genoa’ (Genoa Cathedral) was described as excellent. The sale of paintings at this exhibition amounted to £1,900,[46] equivalent to an income of £1.5m today.[47]

What of Dennistoun’s personal life during this time. I’m not entirely sure when his sister Elizabeth joined him in Old Kilpatrick, probably after their father’s death in 1863, but certainly he, and most likely Elizabeth, was there in 1865, occupying part of a house owned by cabinet maker Alexander Stark[48]. His aspirations of being an architect were clearly set aside because of his health problems, possibly around 1861/62. In the 1871 census he and his sister were still living there at 17 Mount Pleasant Place, his occupation given as a landscape artist.[49]

Despite moving away from Glasgow’s industrial pollution he continued to suffer ill health which was causing concern and necessitated a move to a more forgiving climate. In 1872 he made a will naming Elizabeth as executor [50] and late in 1874 as they were about to leave Scotland for Italy, the Art Club members raised a testimonial of £100 for him. By 1875 he and Elizabeth were living in Capri at the Villa Frederico.[51]

Between 1867 and 1876 the club meetings had been held in a variety of premises, the second and third of which were the Waverley Hotel and the Windsor Hotel, both located in Sauchiehall Street. In 1877 they then held their meetings in the Royal George Hotel in George Square.[52] This peripatetic existence was not deemed satisfactory by the membership and in 1878/79 they were able to lease premises from the Scottish Heritable Securities Company at 62 Bothwell Circus,[53] which became their permanent club house for the next seven years, after which they moved to 151 Bath Street in 1886.[54]

Figure 5. Casa Borghi today. Photograph Donald Macaskill.

What of William, and Elizabeth in Capri? It’s clear he continued to paint, and travel particularly within Italy, painting church buildings both interior and exterior, as demonstrated by watercolours from Rome, Sienna, Genoa and Venice. After some time in Capri he and Elizabeth moved to the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice where they lived at Casa Borghi, 1393 Zattere, (which appropriately translates as rafts in Italian) the promenade which runs along the north side of the Giudecca Canal.[55]

Dennistoun was in good artistic company as that area of Venice in the 19th century attracted a number of artists. John Ruskin was there on several occasions, the first in 1835, the last ‘working’ visit being in1876 when he spent his time revising and updating his three volume history of the architecture of Venice, ‘The Stones of Venice’ which had been published between 1851 and 1853.[56] John Singer Sargent the portrait painter, as he was then, was in Venice in 1881 where he met James Whistler[57] who had been there since late 1879 working on his commission from the Fine Art Society of London to produce etchings of Venice.[58]

Like Ruskin, Sargent visited Venice on several occasions. In circa 1882 he produced an oil painting of Venetian glass workers, in 1904 a watercolour of San Maria Salute, a so called plague church located in Zattere, and in 1907 he painted another watercolour of ships on the Giudecca Canal.[59]

Figure 6. ‘The Giudecca’ by John Singer Sargent 1907. Brooklyn Museum. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Museum

Whilst the Dennistouns were in Venice the Art Club continued to grow despite which, balancing it finances became more and more difficult. Various ideas had been and were proposed to remedy this, the most significant one and perhaps the most controversial, was the proposal to admit lay members. It had first been mooted in 1881 when it  got short shrift from the members. As time went on however and the financial situation became more precarious the membership was at last persuaded to admit non artists to their number circa 1885/86. It was not unanimous however with a sizable minority firmly against the idea, the general committee vote being seventeen in favour with nine against. One key founder member who was against lay membership was Dennistoun’s long standing friend James Cowan. He had been its third president in 1870 and was again elected as such in 1878 and at various other times been treasurer or secretary. He generally acted as club manager throughout his period of membership and latterly, when lay membership was agreed, he became honorary treasurer.

Initially it was intended that no more than fifty lay members would be admitted. That did not last long with the number rising to one hundred and then one hundred and fifty. Clearly a very successful change for the club which along with the production of a Souvenir Book of Sketches brought significant financial stability.[60]

Regarding the Sketch Book, it was published in 1881 and contained forty eight sketches which included contributions from six of the founding members, those missing being Dennistoun, James Leslie, Robert Tennant and Hugh Breckinridge.[61]

An interesting aside perhaps is that the club could have had its first lady artist member as early as 1869 when Jemima Blackburn sent in a letter applying for membership. She had signed the letter ‘JB’ and the absence of any further information (gender?) led to the matter being deferred, although it was noted that the letter was ‘in a feminine hand’. She was the wife of Hugh Blackburn, professor of mathematics at Glasgow University and the daughter of James Wedderburn, one time Solicitor General of Scotland, who had died six months before Jemima was born.  She was a noted wild-life artist, particularly of birds and had friendships with John Ruskin, Landseer and Beatrix Potter. She had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848, had published her book of bird illustrations in 1868, a copy of which was presented to the Zoological Society of London. In other words a very talented artist who was recognised as such by her renowned male contemporaries. The club’s lack of response was to have disappointing consequences.

Two years after receiving her letter the club secretary replied asking her to give three examples of her work if she still wished to join the club. In the event she felt unable to do so at that time as she was not a frequent visitor to town and could not live up to membership obligations. The club’s lack of response was clearly to blame for this situation. Was this because it did not have a view of the broader artistic community and could not see beyond its own boundaries? Was there no member, all artists, who had ever heard of JB? Whatever the reason, it shows the club in a rather parochial light, however it was also in keeping with the male centric view of life that pervaded all organisations of the day, always assuming that they understood the applicant was a woman. A near miss, may very well have been the general view of the membership. One hundred years later in 1983 females were allowed to become members.[62]

In 1886 another book of sketches by members, now numbering sixty four, entitled ‘The Glasgow Art Club Book,1885’, was produced, containing sixty two photo gravure images of the sketches taken by  T & R Annan.[63] Of the club’s founding members six of the seven who contributed to the 1881 volume did so again the non-contributor being Robert McEwan. The club’s stature continued to grow and in 1888 an album of watercolours by club members was presented by the Lord Provost of Glasgow Sir James King to the Prince and Princess of Wales when they opened the International Exhibition in the city on the 8th May of that year.[64]

The years since the Dennistouns had moved to Italy had seen the club transform from what was essentially a rather inward looking sketching and art discussion group to one which had broadened its objectives, changed its demographic to include non-artists, gave annual exhibitions, the first two of which were held with Dennistoun still living in Old Kilpatrick. Generally it became more inclusive, apart from female membership, and looked beyond themselves to support and promote art in the wider community.

During this period of change for the club the Dennistouns continued to live in Venice with William producing paintings of Venetian scenes, probably of mainly ecclesiastical subjects, in which his training in architectural drawing would be well demonstrated.

Unfortunately, that was not to last. His health issues returned with a vengeance and after two months of illness William died on the 24th October 1884, ten years after he left Scotland. The Venetian Register of Daily Deaths recorded his death as follows; “Deceased twenty fourth October 1884, at twelve o’clock, Dorsoduro in the parish of San Trovaso, William Dennistoun – born Glasgow, age 45 years, of married parents, Protestant, professional artist, well to do, a bachelor, cause of death pulmonary tuberculosis, length of illness two months.”[65]

Figure 7. From cjalzumit. Cimitero San Michele a Venezia. https://cjalzumit.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/cimitero-san-michele-a-venezia/

William was buried on Isola San Michele, Venice’s cemetery island in the section reserved for Protestants and Evangelicals, Recinto Evangelico, which lies adjacent to those for Greek and Military burials. He is in good company in that Ezra Pound (poet), Stravinsky (composer), Brodsky (poet), Diaghilev (Ballet Russes) all, in a sense, lie beside him. There is one other more recent individual also buried there with no connection to the arts in any way. Some people might argue otherwise however. Football has often been described as ‘the beautiful game’, if so then  Helenio Herrera the very successful Argentine manager of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and latterly Inter Milan is in appropriate company, being buried there in 1977.[66]

Figure 8. William Dennistoun’s grave in the Cimitero San Michele a Venezia. Photograph Donald Macaskill.
Figure 9. Sketch by Richard Norman via Donald Macaskill.

William Dennistoun’s headstone, rather broken and bruised was still in place in 2013, being sketched then by artist club member Richard Norman after cleaning arranged by fellow member Donald Macaskill. An  inventory of his estate was undertaken on behalf of his sister Elizabeth and presented to Archibald Robertson J.P. in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on the 29th December 1884 by Thomas Young of the Bank of Scotland. It was valued at just over £835,[67] in today’s terms worth somewhere between £88,000 and £1.5m, dependant on what measure is applied.[68] Elizabeth was the executrix and sole beneficiary.

What of his presumably best and longest friends James Cowan and William Young?

Figure 10. James Cowan from ‘ Glasgow’s Treasure Chest’.page 355.

James was born in 1838 [69] and married Catherine Boyd in 1872.[70] Unlike some of his co-founders he did not pursue an artistic career but was a drysalter from around 1867 for most of his working life. His place of business was initially at 72 Virginia Street[71] then at 17 Virginia Street in partnership with James Drysdale from 1873 until 1898.[72]  He had sketched and painted from a very early age particularly flowers and landscapes, continuing to do so for the rest of his life and exhibiting at the club’s annual displays. A number of his paintings generally found their way to friends. In later life he typically used a palette knife or spatula when painting in oil rather than a brush.[73] He died in 1906,[74] Catherine having pre-deceased him in 1883, age thirty,[75] leaving him with five children, the oldest ten, the youngest three months.[76]

Figure 11. George Street in Glasgow 1850. Pencil drawing by Cowan at the age of 12. ‘From Glasgow’s Treasure Chest’ page 286.
Figure 12. Pencil Copy of Landseer’s ‘George Street in Glasgow 1850. Pencil drawing by Cowan at the age of 12. ‘From Glasgow’s Treasure Chest’ page 28
Figure 13. William Young from ‘Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909’.Published 1909.

William Young was born in the village of Catrine, Ayrshire in 1845.[77] The family moved to Glasgow in 1857 when his father took up a position with the Royal Bank in Exchange Square. He attended school in the Gallowgate and then John Street. In 1862 he started work as a clerk before joining the Royal Bank in Exchange Square, becoming in due course a teller. He also pursued studies in art learning from Robert Greenlees and A.D. Robertson at the same time as Dennistoun. He became a professional artist around 1878, his particular interest being the painting of Scottish landscapes.[78] In 1880 he became a member of the RSW where he exhibited his work from time to time.[79] He also exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts where, in 1894, he organised the Old Glasgow Exhibition. His other interests included Glasgow archaeology, photography and music.[80] He died unmarried in 1916 at his home in Hillhead.[81]

Figure 14. Sir David Murray. Suffolk Artists. Courtesy of Suffolk Art. https://suffolkartists.co.uk

One other founder member worthy of a mention, although in a sense they all are, is David Murray. Some sources have him being born to shoemaker James Murray in January 1849, which I have been unable to verify exactly. In the 1851 census however he is listed, age two, as the son of shoemaker James, the family living in Thistle Street in the Gorbals.[82]

In 1861 the family were living at Park Place in the parish of Govan, his father employing six men.[83] David worked initially for two mercantile companies, at what is not clear, however in the 1871 census he is described as a book-keeper accountant.[84] During this time he also attended the Glasgow School of Art night classes, studying under Robert Greenlees, in due course, in around 1875, becoming a full time artist his particular genre being landscapes. He was elected to the RSW in 1878[85] and became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1881, moving to London the following year where he lived at 1 Langham Chambers in Portland Place for the rest of his life. He became an Associate of the RA in 1891 and a full member in 1905.[86]

In 1916 he became president of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, a position he held until the end of his life.[87] The following year he was knighted.[88] In 1933 he exhibited six landscapes in the RA exhibition in May.[89] That was to be his final public act as he died unmarried at Portland Place on the 14th November later that year and was interred at Putney Vale cemetery.[90] His estate was valued at £58,815.[91]

Figure 15. My Love has gone a-Sailing by Sir David Murray. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest in 1884 to the Tate Gallery in London. Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC-ND). Tate Gallery. https://artuk.org/

Elizabeth eventually returned to Scotland however at what date is not clear. There is an unmarried Elizabeth Dennistoun living on her own means at 108 North Hanover Street in Glasgow as recorded in the 1901 census,[92] and again in the 1911 census.[93] In both cases her age given indicates she was born c.1836/37 in Glasgow which matches Elizabeth’s birth date of the 11th March 1837, in Glasgow.[94]

It’s circumstantial that this is William’s sister especially as she can’t be found in the Valuation Rolls for 1915 and 1920 at this address, nor can she be found at 17 Battlefield Gardens for those dates which is where she died in 1923.

It seems likely therefore that if the Elizabeth Dennistoun of North Hanover street was William’s sister she was lodging with someone, which appears to have been the case, her Trust Deed indicating that she was staying with a Mrs Marion Stewart at 17 Battlefield Gardens in 1916. Three codicils to the Deed dated 1918, 1922 and January 1923 confirm her continuing to live there until her death.[95] Still circumstantial but perhaps moving from unlikely/maybe to becoming possible/probable.

She died on the 26th May 1923, cause of death recorded as senile debility.[96] Her estate was valued at £2603, the main family beneficiary being her niece Agnes. Others were Mrs Stewart, her nephew Charles and her original executor William Davidson Main, who was left two paintings by her brother William: ‘Pisano’s Pulpit’, watercolour, and ‘Cathedral Interior’, oil, both of Sienna Cathedral.[97]

Over time a number of Dennistoun ‘artefacts’ have been gifted to the club, including letters from Dennistoun to William Young presented to the club by Young, an album of thirty sketches by Dennistoun presented by Mr. Mitchell Smith, a volume of sketches by Dennistoun presented by Mr. Robert Wylie, and Dennistoun’s painting of Pisano’s Pulpit  in Siena’s Cathedral presented by Mr. Anthony D. Brogan of the Glasgow Plate Glass Co.[98]

Re the last named painting, was it the one that was bequeathed to Elizabeth’s executor William Davidson Main? If so how did come into Brogan’s possession? Questions which at the moment remain unanswered

There is another intriguing question to be considered with reference to this painting which is that it actually does not look like the pulpit in Sienna Cathedral. Was it simply misnamed at the time of its gift? I’m afraid it’s another question that remains unanswered.

Figure 16. Photograph of Pisano’s Pulpit in Sienna Cathedral.
Figure 17. Dennistoun’s painting of “Pisano’s Pulpit”. Courtesy of Glasgow Art Club.







The most obvious difference is that the photographed pulpit looks octagonal by comparison with that painted by Dennistoun. Regardless, it would be appropriate that all these gifts would have pride of place in the club today. Presumably, they have.


From Figure 4 the proprietor of the Waverly Temperance Hotel in Buchanan Street and those in London and Edinburgh is shown as R. Cranston. This was Robert Cranston, a cousin of Kate and Stuart Cranston’s father George. He was born in East Calder in 1815 and married Elizabeth Dalglish in 1838. He became an abstainer from alcohol after he and some friends decided to remain dry for three months, which they successfully did, deciding therafter to become heavily involved in the temperance movement. Interestingly his parents at one time kept the Bay Horse Inn in East Calder.

He and Elizabeth had two sons and two daughters, one son, Robert becoming the Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1903. Recognising his daughter Mary’s business acumen he gave her the Washington Temperance Hotel in Sauchiehall Street on her marriage to photographer George Mason. He also financed the start of  Kate Cranston’s tearoom business in Glasgow.

A fuller biography can be seen in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/56585).

Part 2 will continue the story of the club from circa 1890 to the present day.


My thanks to Donald Macaskill and John Hamilton for access to their research and documents, without which this article could not have been written.


[1] Brown, A. K. (1918). The Glasgow Art Club: A Retrospective read at the Jubilee Dinner 30th November 1917. Glasgow University Library: Reprint 1945. p. 3.

[2] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Cadder. 3 September 1780. DENNISTONE, William and BAIRD, Agnes. 626/00 0020 0355. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[3] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Cadder. 26 May 1749. BAIRD, James and HENDERSON, Margaret. 626/ 20/312. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[4] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kirkintilloch. 8 October 1758. BAIRD, Agnes. 498/00 0010 0473. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[5] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kirkintilloch/Glasgow/Barony. 1784 – 1798. DENNISTOUN. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[6] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Barony. 28 October 1798. DENNISTOUN, Ebenezer. 622/00 0040 0087. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[7] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilsyth. 18 March 1781. BURNS, William. 483/00 0050 0130. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[8] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Kilsyth. 9 December 1767. BURNS, John and Muir, Isabel. 483/  50 279. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[9] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Kilsyth. 2 October 1808. BURNS, William and ADAM, Mary. 483/00 0060 0280. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[10] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Kilsyth. 1809 – 1828. BURNS. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[11] Births. (OPR) Scotland. 6 October 1811. BURNS, Elizabeth Anderson. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[12] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 15 September 1828. DENNISTOUN, Ebenezer and MCNICOL, Jean. 644/1 410 14. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[13] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 28 November 1829. DENNISTOUN, William. 644/1 320 610. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[14] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 27 June 1831. DENNISTOUN, Jean Galbraith. 644/1 330 167. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[15] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. 17 December 1837. DENNISTOUN, William. 644/1 550 79. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[16] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow 13 July 1834. DENNISTOUN, Ebenezer and BURNS, Elizabeth. 644/01 0410 0524. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[17] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1834 – 1849. DENNISTOUN. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[18] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 13 March 1839. DENNISTOUN, William. 644/01 0350 0377. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[19] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. December 1842. DENNISTOUN. 644/1 560 111. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[20] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 24 June 1851. DENNISTOUN, Elizabeth and DENNISTOUN, Mary. 644/01 0580 0052. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[21] Census. 1841. Scotland. St. Paul’s, Glasgow. 644/01 018/00 007.  www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[22] Census. 1851. Scotland. St. Paul’s, Glasgow. 644/01 142/00 003. . www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[23] Directories. Scotland. (1803) Glasgow directory. Glasgow: W. McFeat & Co. p. 20. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/87872844

[24] Directories. Scotland (1821) Glasgow directory. Glasgow: W. McFeat & Co. p. 40. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/83436357

[25] Directories. Scotland. (1838-39) Glasgow directory. Glasgow: John Graham. p. 34. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/83813214

[26] Directories. Scotland. (1848-49) Glasgow directory. Glasgow: William Collins & Co. p. 54. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/90165132

[27] Directories. Scotland. (1849-50) Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William Collins & Co. p. 105. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/90165079

[28] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 April 1843. DENNISTOUN, Agnes. 644/01 0560 0128. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[29] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 October 1854. DENNISTOUN, Janet. 644/01 0580 0126. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[30] Directories. Scotland. (1855-56) Glasgow directory. Glasgow: William McKenzie. p. 121. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84130519

[31] Census 1861. Scotland. Glasgow.  644/02 015/00 008. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[32] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. High Church, Glasgow. 16 March 1863. DENNISTOUN, Ebenezer. 644/02 049. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[33] Glasgow Art Club. Courtesy of Donald Mackaskill.

[34] Cowan, James as Peter Prowler.(1932) Glasgow Art Club – Origin and Some Reminiscences of its Early Days. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. 28 October. Glasgow Art Club.

[35] Census 1861. Scotland. Glasgow. 644/02 015/00 008. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[36] Murray, David Sir. (1932) Letter to James Cowan. 18 November. Glasgow Art Club.

[37] Cowan, James. (1951). From Glasgow’s Treasure Chest. Glasgow: Craig and Wilson Ltd. pp228-230.

[38] Cowan Jnr, James as Peter Prowler.(1932) Glasgow Art Club – Origin and Some Reminiscences of its Early Days. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. 28 October and 11 November. Glasgow Art Club.

[39] Cowan, James as Peter Prowler.(1932) Glasgow Art Club – Origin and Some Reminiscences of its Early Days. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. 28 October. Glasgow Art Club.

[40] Directories. Scotland. (1868-69). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. Appendix p. 138. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/83946189

[41] Brown, op. cit. p. 6.

[42] Directories. Scotland. (1876-77). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. Appendix p. 113. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84442225

[43] Glasgow Herald (1874) The Glasgow Art Club. Glasgow Herald. 1 December. p. 4c.

[44] Glasgow Herald (1874) Literature, Science and Art. Glasgow Herald. 17 October. p. 3b.

[45] Glasgow Herald (1875) The Glasgow Art Club, Third Annual Exhibition. Glasgow Herald. 6 December 1875. p. 4e.

[46] Glasgow Herald (1876) The Glasgow Art Club. Glasgow Herald. 7 December 1876. p. 4f.

[47] Measuring Worth (2020) https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/

[48] Valuation Rolls (1865) Scotland. Dunbarton. DENNISTOUN, William. VR009600011-/156. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[49] Census 1871. Scotland. Old Kilpatrick. 501/00 004/00 003. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[50] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 31 December 1884. DENNISTOUN, William. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. SC70/4/210. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[51] Brown, op. cit. p. 4.

[52] Brown, op. cit. p. 7.

[53] Directories. Scotland. (1879-80). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. p. 550. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84466253  and Valuation Rolls (1885) Scotland. Glasgow. GLASGOW ART CLUB. VR010200336-/289. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[54] Directories Scotland. (1886-87). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. p. 663 https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84593394

[55] The Venice Insider. 9 Typical Venetian Features Explained Along the Zattere. https://www.theveniceinsider.com/9-typical-venetian-features-zattere/

[56] The Ruskin Library. Ruskin’s Venice. https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/ruskin-s-venice-the-ruskin-library/tAIyTnjtf9QFKA?hl=en

[57] Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. John Singer Sargent. https://www.museothyssen.org/en/collection/artists/sargent-john-singer

[58] University of Glasgow. James McNeil Whistler: The Etchings. https://etchings.arts.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/sets_texts/?eid=venice1

[59] WikiMedia Commons. Paintings of Venice by John Singer Sargent. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Paintings_of_Venice_by_John_Singer_Sargent

[60] Brown, op.cit. pp 12, 13, 14, 15.

[61] Walker, Robert. (1881) Black and White Sketches by the members of the Glasgow Art Club. Glasgow: Gillespie Brothers. Courtesy of Donald Macaskill.

[62] Farquhar, Norma. (2010) News from 185 Bath Street: The Newsletter of the Glasgow Art Club. Issue33, p.3. https://glasgowartclub.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/GAC-Newsletter-33.pdf

[63] The Glasgow Art Club Book (1885). Sketches by Members.

[64] Royal Collection Trust. Glasgow Art Club Album: title page dated 8 May 1888. https://www.rct.uk/collection/970478-b/glasgow-art-club-album-title-page

[65] Glasgow Art Club , Courtesy of Donald Mackaskill.

[66] cjalzumit. Cimitero San Michele a Venezia. https://cjalzumit.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/cimitero-san-michele-a-venezia/

[67] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 29 December 1884. DENNISTOUN, William. Inventory. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. SC70/1/237. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[68] Measuring Worth (2020) https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/

[69] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 28 January 1838. COWAN, James. 644/1 350 164. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[70] Marriages. (SR) Scotland. Park, Lanark. 22 March 1872. COWAN, James and BOYD, Catherine M. 646/2 19. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[71] Directories. Scotland. (1867-68). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. p. 117. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/84151211

[72] Directories. Scotland. (1897-98). Glasgow Directory. Glasgow: William MacKenzie. p. 145. https://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/archive/85323513

[73] Cowan, op. cit. p. 354,355.

[74] Deaths. (SR) Scotland. West Kilbride, Ayr. 12 April 1906. COWAN, James. 620/  25. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[75]Deaths. (SR) Scotland. Cathcart, Renfrew. April, 1883. COWAN, Catherine M. 560/  72. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[76] Births. (SR) Scotland. Cathcart, Lanark. 1872-1883. COWAN. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[77] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Sorn, Ayr. 28 September 1845, YOUNG, William. 613/  30 357. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[78] Eyre-Todd, George (1909). Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909, William Young. Glasgow: Gowans and Grey Limited. http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/eyrwho/

[79] The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour. Past Members, William Young. https://www.rsw.org.uk/about-us/past-members/

[80] Eyre-Todd, op.cit.

[81] Deaths (SR) Scotland. Hillhead, Glasgow. 23 April 1916. YOUNG, William. 644/12 415. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[82] Census 1851. Scotland. Gorbals, Glasgow. 644/2 9/6. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[83] Census 1861. Scotland. Govan. 646/1 17/34. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[84] Census 1871 Scotland. Govan. 646/1 2/2. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[85] The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours. Past Members, David Murray. https://www.rsw.org.uk/about-us/past-members/

[86] Royal Academy. Sir David Murray (1849-1933). https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/name/david-murray

[87] Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. Past Presidents, Sir David Murray. http://royalinstituteofpaintersinwatercolours.org/history/

[88] London Gazette (1918). 2 April 1918. Issue 30607, p. 4026. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30607/page/4026

[89] Royal Academy. Royal Academy of Arts . Exhibition 1933. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/exhibition-catalogue/ra-sec-vol165-1933

[90] The Scotsman. (1933). Scots Artists Death: Sir David Murray R.A.  etc. The Scotsman. 15 November 1933. p.10g. https://www.nls.uk and Find a Grave. Sir David Murray. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/74464434/david-murray

[91] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 20 January 1934. MURRAY, Sir David. Collection: Scotland, National Probate Record Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. p. 126. http://www.ancestry.co.uk

[92] Census 1901. Scotland. Glasgow. 644/6 4/ 35. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[93] Census 1911. Scotland. Glasgow. 644/8 9/ 19. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[94] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 11 March 1837. DENNISTOUN, Elizabeth. 644/1 340 542. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[95] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 22 June 1923. DENNISTOUN, Elizabeth. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. SC36/51/198. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[96] Deaths (SR) Scotland. Cathcart, Lanark.  26 May 1923. DENNISTOUN, Elizabeth. 633/08 339. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[97] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 22 June 1923. DENNISTOUN, Elizabeth. Settlement and Trust. Edinburgh Sheriff Court. SC36/51/198. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk and Scotland. 22 June 1923. National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmation and Inventories). https://www.ancestry.co.uk/

[98] Glasgow Art Club, Courtesy of Donald Macaskill.



Author: harmonyrowbc

Ex aero engineer with a life long passion for Glasgow History

4 thoughts on “William Dennistoun (1839-1884) and the Glasgow Art Club. Part 1.”

  1. Thanks for this. I am interested in the history of my local area old Kilpatrick/Bowling and knew about the Arts Club connection . There is a Dennistoun mausoleum in Old Kilpatrick graveyard and I wonder if that is the family connection? Can you send you details if you are interested?


    1. Hi,
      I’m not entirely sure if the mausoleum is connected in some way to William but I certainly would be interested in any details you have. Thanks for the offer.


  2. hi. I live in Old Kilpatrick and knew about the Arts Club connection. There is a Dennistoun mausoleum in OK graveyard -I can send details if you are interested.


    1. Hi,

      This is the inscription detail:
      203 mausoleum(s) This tomb was restored in 1887 in memory of the Buchanans of Auchentorlie laid her since the year 1600 clarior hinc honos (Brighter hence the honour) b Archd B of Auchentorlie 16.12.1832 w Mary Lyon Dennistoun 30.6.1868 three das , one s Richard Dennistoun Buchanan of Auchentorlie some years capt 72 Highlanders & latter part of the Indian Mutiny 22.9.1830 10.2.1890 (c) 1887 ; Jane Dennistoun Buchanan b Kelvingrove 19.9.1819 d Edinburgh 11.1.1912 2 da of Archibald
      (d) And Buchanan of Auchentorlie b 14.3.1817 w Mida 10.6.1823 18.9.1902 (da of Sir James Fergusson bt of Kilkerran)
      (e) (white cross) Geo & Grace Fergusson da Mary Claudia 20.12.1887 10.7.1888″

      my research -may be useful
      Mary Lyon Dennistoun b 26.10.1788 d 30.6.1868, married 1816
      Archibald Buchanan (of Dennistoun, Buchanan & Co) obtained £3,000 on his marriage to the daughter of Richard Dennistoun( of R&G Dennistoun & co) ( SRO, GD1/512/38 , Contract of marriage between Arcbd Buchanan and Miss M L Dennistoun ,1816]


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