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Adam was born in Edinburgh and studied at the RSA schools before embarking on a career as a portraitist and painter of interiors, the work for which he became most famous. He was awarded the Maclaine Walters medal for best painting from life. He also painted a notable series of views of Venice during a visit there in 1894 and later composed a group of winter landscapes. Usually he worked in oil or pastel, though also occasionally in watercolour.

He settled in North Berwick in 1908 and spent the rest of his life there recording the interiors of local society households, capturing well 'the daintiness and charm of ladies and children and their surroundings' though with a tendency, so Caw continues, ‘to be a trifle sentimental’. Elected RSA 1897, his watercolours have a delicacy not found in his other works, reflecting his studies under George Paul Chalmers and William McTaggart.

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