Alexander Runciman - 1736-1785
(his 'East Lothian Landscape' is on the right)
John Runciman - 1744-1766
As a family history site, rather than an art site, this site seeks to widen our knowledge of the family of the artists. It starts from an extremely modest base of information. Alexander and John Runciman were born in Edinburgh, where the family had lived for the known previous 2 generations. As neither artist ever married, the assumption is that this particular Runciman line ended with them.
There were also 2 sisters, one (Jean) died in infancy in 1744 and the other, Eleonora, disappears without trace after her birth registration, despite having such a traceable name.
We're just at the beginning of a trail which may turn out to lead to a different story.
John died in Naples at a very early age. The following is an extract from a letter written by James Barry - a fellow artist and, from what is said, a good friend – to Edmund Burke, his financial sponsor back in UK about his spending : “Now I have made an end of my tour to Naples, I will let you into the occasion of my going there so precipitately as I did. I mentioned to you in my former letter a very ingenious artist, Mr. Runciman who went to Naples for the recovery of his health.One day as his brother, some other artists, and I, were at dinner, there came to the brother two letters, desiring him to come directly to Naples, as Mr. Runciman was not expected to live two days; the brother applied to two or three different people for their company on this occasion, but they excused themselves. He spoke to me, and as I had a great value for the abilities of Mr. Runciman at Naples, and a friendship for both of them, I could never think of letting him go by himself on this melancholy occasion, as I feared something still worse might happen. We were joined after we had engaged our chaise, by two others. On our arrival we found that poor Runciman was dead and buried, and so had nothing to do but run about to see the things, and return back as soon as possible: though the journey was something expensive, yet as it was necessary to see what was there, you will I hope excuse it. ”
When Alexander came home from Rome he lived in London for a while. As did several other artists over the years, he lodged at 30 Leicester Sq (worth a Google) with the widow of artist James Hogarth.
This was followed by a move to Edinburgh. Here, I learned, Alexander lived openly with a mistress. I haven't established her name - but I do know her background. From NLS I obtained a copy of a letter written by David Laing to ‘AC’ 27 May 1831. He was writing about Alexander’s agent (Walter Ross). “This Mr Ross was at least as remarkable for profligacy as for talent, and, among other things, passed on one of his cast-off mistresses to the Painter. Runciman lived with her openly, and had a child by her, and is said to have lost many of his early patrons on this account". Well, cats and pigeons here…this is a rare insight – indeed one of only 3 sources I can find.
The crucial second source is from Bodybuilding: Reforming Masculinities in British Art 1750-1800 by Martin Myrone at page 341 (relevant passage is included at note 49).
Here, both a son and a nephew (both requiring financial support which wasn't forthcoming) are mentioned. We can discount John who died in 1768/69 as being the father on the basis that any son of his would not be requiring financial support in 1785. The only known 'candidate' to provide Alexander with a nephew is his sister Eleonora, whose life we know nothing of after her birth.
However the piece de resistance came courtesy of a ‘Biographical Sketch of Alexander Runciman’ which appeared in The Scots Magazine, Sunday 1st August 1802, page 622. “He was never married, but had a natural son named John, who was bred a silversmith, and went to London some years since.”
This site has at its core the search for John.
There is a simultaneous avenue which maybe is worth following up. Charles Runciman was an artist and art teacher of some repute born (1794) and living in London. I remember having read that it was claimed he was related to the Runciman brothers. I think this reputed connection is worth investigation. So for this reason Charles and his family are included in the tree on this site in the hope this may unlock the puzzle of Alexander’s son, the silversmith John. (Charles is shown as unconnected to the artists’ known family, until we can prove otherwise).
Thanks for reading and please Join the Search!