William Darling McKay, RSA LLD (1844–1924)

William McKay (or MacKay) began life in Gifford where his father was schoolmaster but completed his education at the Trustees’ Drawing Academy (the forerunner of the College of Art) and the Royal Scottish Academy School in Edinburgh. He was elected ARSA in 1877 and RSA in 1883. Edinburgh University conferred on him in 1919 the degree of LL.D for his contribution to Scottish art.

A spell in Holland proved influential in his evolving style. At the time the Dutch Hague School championed an en-plien air approach where the effects of light and atmosphere could be interpreted directly and McKay took to this method with enthusiasm. Returning to Scotland he exploited rural East Lothian in this manner and his work is dominated by atmospheric pastoral landscapes with details of men and women working the land. Work of this nature proved extremely popular with the audience of the day and found a ready market.

In later life he became Librarian and then Secretary of the Royal Scottish Academy. He published The Scottish School of Painting in 1906 and contributed an introductory essay to The Royal Scottish Academy, 1826-1916. In May 1922 he gifted ‘Autumn Evening, Haddington, 1900’ to the town of Haddington and it was hung in Knox Academy. The Rector ensured that the public were admitted to the school to view the painting. McKay died of influenza at his home in Warrender Park Crescent, Edinburgh on the 10th April 1924.

The collections hold a number of works by McKay, ranging from characteristic rural landscapes to portraits and drawings; many are profiled above and catalogued here.

You can view all the paintings East Lothian Council owns by WD McKay, and others, on the YourPaintings website.

Further Reading:

Martin A Forrest, Artists in East Lothian 1850 to 1920, Proceedings of Haddington’s History Society 1994–5.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *