Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Robert Gibb
Robert Gibb was as Scottish as they came, born in Laurieston, near Falkirk 28 October 1845, and educated in Edinburgh. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy and exhibited his first of more than 140 works there in 1867. It should come as no surprise that he was one of the great chroniclers of Highlanders in the field.
His first stab at the military genre came with Comrades in 1878, depicting men of the 42nd Highlanders (The Black Watch) in the Crimea.
The original version of this work was painted by Gibb in 1878 and is currently unlocated. The painting became iconic. While reading a life of Napoleon, the artist made a sketch of the retreat from Moscow. The dominant group of three figures in the foreground was then isolated and adapted to form an independent composition depicting a young soldier whispering his dying message to a comrade who seeks to comfort him in the snowy wastes of the Crimean winter. Photo credit: The Black Watch Castle & Museum
The Thin Red Line, oil on canvas, by Robert Gibb, 1881, showing the stand of a handful of the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Balaclava stopping 2,500 massed Russian cavalry. Currently on display at the National War Museum of Scotland, the venue notes “The Thin Red Line is one of the best known of all Scottish historical paintings and is the classic representation of Highland military heroism as an icon of Scotland.”
Saving the Colours; the Guards at Inkerman (1895 – Naval and Military Club, London)
Alma: Forward the 42nd. This 1888 oil on canvas by Scottish artist, Robert Gibb (1845–1932), depicts the Battle of Alma, in Sebastopol, Crimea on the 20th September 1854. Black Watch, in full review order, are advancing towards enemy guns on heights above, with Field Marshal Sir Colin Campbell (later Lord Clyde) shown giving the historic order from which the painting is titled. In left foreground are two Russians, and in distance stretch of sea with fleet in action. The painting was gifted to Glasgow Museums collection by Lord Woolavington in 1923. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Besides the Crimea, he also portrayed the Scots at Waterloo.
Closing the Gates at Hougoumont, 1815. Men of the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards are shown forcing shut the gates of the chateau of Hougoumont against French attack, with Lieutenant-Colonel James MacDonell forcing back the gate to the left. The moment of crisis shown in the painting came when around 30 French soldiers forced the north gate and entered into the chateau grounds. Before others could follow, the gates were forced shut again, and the French soldiers still inside were killed. Wellington himself had said the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at the chateau. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland
Late in his life, he also painted the Highlanders in the Great War.
He produced Backs to the Wall at age 84. In this painting, the artist shows a line of khaki-clad Scottish troops standing defiantly at the critical moment, bayonets fixed– with the specters of fallen comrades behind them.
The work was inspired by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s famous Special Order of the Day at the time of the Great German Offensive of April 1918.
There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
Backs to the Wall, 1918, painted 1929 oil on canvas. Gift from W. J. Webster, 1931 to the Angus Council Museums.
Gibb held the office of King’s painter and limner for Scotland for 25 years and was Keeper of the National Gallery of Scotland from 1895 until 1907. The artist died at his home in Edinburgh in 1932, and he was given a full military funeral with an honor guard provided by the Black Watch.
Many of his works are on display across the UK and are available online.
Thank you for your work, sir.