Robert Gibb, RSA, (Scottish, 1845-1932)

Napoleon's Surrender

IMG_5110 WEB

Robert Gibb, RSA, (Scottish, 1845-1932), Napoleon’s Surrender, oil on canvas, signed and dated lower right 1924, 54.5″ x 44.25″

Robert Gibb, born in Laurieston and educated in Edinburgh, built his reputation on his romantic and historical military paintings, but was also a successful portrait painter and landscape artist. He began his art training at night at the Board of Manufacturers’ School; later in his career he attended the Royal Scottish Academy, where he was a frequent exhibitor. In addition to being a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, Gibb held the position of Keeper of the National Gallery of Scotland from 1895 to 1907, and was Painter and Limner to the King from 1908 until his death.

He began exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1867 with a Scottish landscape (Head of Glen-Lester, Arran) – the first of approximately 143 paintings exhibited at the Academy. By the time Gibb was thirty years old he was considered an exceptional painter of battles and was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. He was made a full member of the Academy following the enormous success of his 1881 painting The Thin Red Line, inspired by his reading of Alexander Kinglake’s book The Invasion of the Crimea. The painting showed the red coated 93rd (Highland) Regiment resisting an attack by Russian cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava (1854). Three years later Gibb painted Schoolmates, which depicted two highland officers in the heat of battle, one falling wounded into the arms of the other. He continued painting military scenes throughout the Great War, and his last military painting, Backs to the Wall, appeared in 1929.

Gibb was also an accomplished portrait painter; among his subjects were the African Explorer Henry M. Stanley; Rev. Joseph Parker D.D.; Sir Arthur Halkett; and the artist’s own wife, the former Margaret Shennan, second daughter of the Lord Dean of the Guild, whom he married in 1885.

The artist died at his residence in Bruntsfield Crescent, Edinburgh in 1932, and he was given a full military funeral with honor guard  in Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh on February 15.


*   Head of Glen-Lester, Arran (1867)

*   Visit of William, Lord Russell’s Family before his Execution (1872)

*   Death of Marmion (1873)

*   Columbia in sight of Iona (1874)

*   Elaine (1875)

*   Margaret of Anjou and the Outlaw (1875)

*   Death of St Columba (1876)

*   Bridge of Sighs (1877)

*   Comrades (1878 – Private Collection)

*   Retreat from Moscow (1879 – Private Collection)

*   The Thin Red Line, (1881 – National War Museum, Edinburgh)

*   Last Voyage of the Viking, 1883)

*   The Sea King (1883)

*   Schoolmates (1884 – Private Collection)

*   Letters from Home (1885 – destroyed)

*   Alma: Advance of the 42nd Highlanders (1889 – Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow)

*   Saving the Colours; the Guards at Inkerman (1895 – Naval and Military Club, London)

*   Comrades (1878 – Private Collection)

*   Comrades (1896 – Black Watch)

*   Hougomont-1815 (1903 – National War Museum, Edinburgh)

*   Dargai, October 20, 1897 (1909 – Private Collection)

*   The Red Cross (1913)

*   Communion at the Front (1917)

*  Napoleon’s Surrender (1924)

*   Backs to the Wall, 1918 (1929 – Arbroath Museum)


*   Gilbert, W. Matthews, “Robert Gibb, R.S.A.”, Art Journal 1897, pp. 25-28.

*   Harrington, Peter. (1993). – British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700-1914. – London: Greenhill. – ISBN 1-85367-157-6

*   Harrington, Peter, “The Man who Painted the Thin Red Line”, Scots Magazine, Volume 130, No, 6, March 1989, pp. 587-595.

*   Obituary, Times, February 13, 1932, p. 12.


  1.  ^ Wordsworth, Dot (8 June 2013). “What, exactly, is a ‘red line’?”. The Spectator magazine. Retrieved 30 July 2013.

Gibb began to exhibit at the RSA in 1867, exhibiting over 143 paintings. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and made a full member following the enormous success of his 1881 painting, The Thin Red Line, which showed the red coated 93rd (Highland) Regiment standing fast against an attack by Russian cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava (1854). Gibb found his inspiration for the painting while reading Alexander Kinglake’s book ‘The Invasion of the Crimea’. He continued painting military scenes throughout the Great War, and his last military painting, Backs to the Wall, appeared in 1929.