Robert Gibb RSA
Backs to the Wall, ’18
Size without frame: 8x13 in
Born Laurieston, died Edinburgh. Painter of romantic, historical, military subjects, also portraits. Limner to His Majesty for Scotland 1908-1932, studied art at Edinburgh classes in the Life School of the RSA. His earlier paintings indicated an earnest approach to historical scenes often of a tragic nature while his later work shows him in a more romantic light. In 1878 he began a series of military pictures on which his reputation is now largely based. ‘Comrades’ was followed by ‘Retreat from Moscow’, finished in Paris. In 1881 ‘The Thin Red Line’ created a storm at the RSA and going on tour carried the artist’s fame overseas. Caw thought him ‘the only one who can be compared with the military painters of France .. the outstanding qualities of his art as a whole are the clarity and coherence of its conception on the intellectual side, and the high level of its accomplishment in certain technical respects, while the scale on which he works and the complexity of the material with which he deals are exceptional’. Keeper of the NGS 1895-1907 in which capacity he re-arranged and re-catalogued the collection, marking a landmark in its development.
This is the artist’s first colour sketch for his very large finished oil painting of the same name which now resides in the collection of Angus Council.
In the painting, the artist used the compositional effect of a line of soldiers at the critical moment – in this case a line of khaki-clad troops standing defiantly, bayonet at the ready, with the ghostly figures of dead comrades above the soldiers’ heads.
The painting was inspired by Sir Douglas Haig’s famous Special Order of the Day at the time of the Great German Offensive of April 1918.
” ….There is not 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….”
This painting was Robert Gibb’s final battle scene painted after the War towards the end of his life. He died in Edinburgh in 1932.
The painting was gifted the by the late W J Webster of Denley, Arbroath, in 1932 to the collections of the Burgh.