Archibald Robertson (painter)

Archibald Robertson (May 8, 1765 – December 6, 1835) was a Scottish born painter who operated the Columbian Academy of Painting in New York with his brother Alexander. Known for his miniature portrait paintings, he was asked to paint George and Martha Washington soon after coming to the United States from Scotland. He also made watercolor landscape paintings and engravings. His book Elements of the Graphic Arts was published in 1802.

Archibald Robertson (1765 1835), self-portrait, ca 1790 1795

Early lifeEdit

New York seen from Long Island, 1795
New York St. Paul's Chapel, 1799
Archibald Robertson, Eliza Abramse Robertson, 1794, watercolor on ivory

Robertson was born in Monymusk,[nb 1] near Aberdeen[3][4] on May 8, 1765.[1] His mother was Jean Ross and his father, William Robertson,[1][4] was a draftsman and architect. He was the eldest of three artistic brothers, which included Alexander and Andrew.[5]


Robertson attended Marischal College in Aberdeen from 1782 to 1786, where he studied art. He then studied art in Edinburgh.[6][nb 2] In 1786 began his studies with Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West in London. He also studied art at the Royal Academy of Arts.[4]


Robertson opened an art school and studio in Aberdeen, Scotland following his training in London.[4][6] Robertson was a successful painter of portraits and miniature portraits.[4] He also engraved, including topographical engravings. Archibald and Alexander collaborated on works, like the engravings.[7]

Archibald came to the United States in 1791[7] at the invitation of several wealthy individuals to teach art.[8] He was asked to paint the portrait of George and Martha Washington.[6]

Alexander joined his brother in the United States in the autumn of 1792.[3] They established the Columbian Academy of Painting in New York[8] on William Street.[4] It was one of the country's first art schools.[5] The Columbian Academy of Art was renamed the Academy of Painting, which continued to be managed by Archibald.[7][nb 3] Alexander opened his own art school in 1802.[5][7]

Both of the Robertson brothers were active exhibitors and involved in the management of the American Academy of the Fine Arts (AAFA) in New York.[6][7] Archibald joined in 1817 and was on the board of directors for 15 years.[4]

In New York, Archibald made watercolor landscape paintings of the Hudson River Valley and New York City.[4] In 1802 he had the book, Elements of Drawing, of his systematized approach toward drawing for amateur artists. His approach was inspired by William Sawrey Gilpin.[6]

Personal lifeEdit

Robertson met Eliza Abramse in the United States and married her in December, 1794 and made several portraits of her.[9] He taught her to paint with watercolors and her work was exhibited at the American Academy of Fine Arts.[10] They had a son, Anthony Lispenard Robertson, who was an attorney and became chief justice.[11] He was the fourth son of many children the couple had.[1]


Roberson died December 6, 1835.[6] He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.[2]

Published worksEdit

He published the following books:

  • Elements of the Graphic Arts, 1802
  • On the Art of Sketching, about 1800, manuscript
  • A book on the art of miniature painting


  1. ^ Sidney Lee states that his father was of Drumnahoy, near Aberdeen.[1] Archibald's gravestone says that he was born in Monymusk.[2]
  2. ^ Avery stated that Robertson studied art in EDinburgh before 1786, but did not provide a college or university name.[4]
  3. ^ Avery claims that Alexander continued to run the Columbian Academy.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Sidney Lee (1896). Dictionary of National Biography. pp. 401–402.
  2. ^ a b Archibald Robertson. Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Find a Grave. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Alexander Robertson biography. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kevin J. Avery; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) (1 January 2002). American Drawings and Watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 338. ISBN 978-1-58839-060-8.
  5. ^ a b c William Dunlap (1834). History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. George P. Scott and Company, Printers. pp. 425–426.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Archibald Robertson (1765-1835). Art & Architecture of New Jersey. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e Kevin J. Avery; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) (1 January 2002). American Drawings and Watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-58839-060-8.
  8. ^ a b Alexander Robertson (1772-1841). Archived 2014-08-22 at the Wayback Machine Art & Architecture of New Jersey. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  9. ^ Portraits of the Washingtons. The Century. Century Company. 1890. p. 11.
  10. ^ Mrs. Archibald Robertson (1776-1865). Archived August 26, 2014, at the Wayback Machine eMuseum. New York Historical Society. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  11. ^ Anthony Lispenard Robertson (1808-1868). Museum Collections. New York Historical Society. Retrieved August 21, 2014.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Archibald Robertson at Wikimedia Commons