Joseph Farquharson is best known for his paintings of winter landscapes, usually snowy scenes featuring sheep and with poetic sounding titles. A human figure is often included. These are usually rural workers such as shepherds or farm labourers going about their work. Many of the snow pictures and landscape paintings were based on the surrounding countryside and woods of Farquharson’s home at Finzean.
The artist Walter Sickert wrote of Farquharson’s “extraordinary virtuosity” and praised his lightness of touch as “the mark of the real painter” and compared him favourably to Courbet.
His picture titles often sound like quotations but were usually thought of by the artist himself. The titles emphasise the mood and atmosphere of the paintings.
Joseph Farquharson was born in Edinburgh in 1846. His father Francis was a doctor and laird of Finzean in Aberdeenshire. Joseph inherited this title in 1918 after the death of his elder brother Robert, an MP. The young Farquharson was educated in Edinburgh and was allowed to paint on Saturdays using his father’s paint box. Having received his own box of paints as a gift aged 12, he went on to exhibit his first picture at the Royal Scottish Academy the following year, aged only 13. The Scottish landscape artist Peter Graham was Farquharson’s tutor for twelve years.
In 1873, Farquharson exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time. During the 1870s and 1880s, he spent time at the studio of the French academic artist Carolus-Duran in Paris. In 1883 achieved success with the sale of his painting ‘The joyless winter day’ to the Chantrey Fund (now the Tate Gallery). Between 1885 and 1893 Farquharson made a number of journeys to Egypt. He produced pictures inspired by his travels there. In 1915 he was elected to the Royal Academy, exhibiting 204 pictures there and 181 works at the Fine Art Society, London.
He also exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Institution, the Glasgow Institute and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. An exhibition of his work was held at the Fine Art Society, London in March 1887. He was elected a full Royal Academician in 1900.
In later life, Farquharson spent time painting flower pictures and some portraits. As laird of Finzean, his home in Aberdeenshire was said to have been carpeted in tartan and a venue for numerous parties. At his death in 1935, at the age of 89, he was thought to be the oldest living British artist. Among his many bequests, he left £500 to the Artist’s General Benevolent Institution.