(b. 1723, Lanark, d. 1798, Roma)


Scottish painter, archaeologist, and picture-dealer, active mainly in Italy. He settled permanently in Rome in 1756, and was a leading member of the Neoclassical circle of Mengs and Winckelmann. His archaeological excavations near Rome resulted in many important additions to contemporary collections, and his interest in antiquity exerted a decisive influence on the young Canova. He was to know and encourage almost all the British artists who worked in Rome during the second half of the 18th century. Henry Fuseli, who was not an uncritical admirer, wrote of Hamilton in 1805, 'however eminent his talents or other qualities were, they were excelled by the liberality, benevolence and humanity of his character'.

Hamilton's history paintings, mostly of Homeric subjects, were influenced by Poussin as well as by the antique (Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1763). They were never very numerous and today are generally regarded as rather tepid, but they became well known through engravings, and greatly influenced the development of the Neoclassical style amongst both his contemporaries and the younger generation, including David. Indeed, Hamilton was much better known on the Continent than in Britain, where his name was more familiar for his activities in selling Old Masters and classical antiquities (he was one of the wealthiest artists in Rome). Together with Barry, and the Anglo-Americans West and Copley, he is one of the few painters to have made a significant contribution to history painting in Britain.

Gavin Hamilton is not to be confused with Gawen Hamilton (1697-1737), a minor portrait painter remembered for his Conversation of Virtuosi at the Kings Armes (National Portrait Gallery, London, 1735), which shows himself and several other artists of the day.

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