John Duncan (painter)

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Isolde (detail from "Tristan and Isolde") by John Duncan, 1912

John Duncan (1866-1945) was a Scottish painter.[1][2]


Duncan was born in Dundee in 1866, the son of a cattleman. John, however, had no interest in the family business and preferred the visual arts. By the age of 11 he was a student at the Dundee School of Art, then based at the High School of Dundee. He also studied at Antwerp School of Art under Charles Verlat.[2]

Duncan provided illustrations for the 1895 magazine "The Evergreen". The magazine was published by the sociologist and urbanist Patrick Geddes and also featured work from artist Robert Burns.[3] Duncan depicts "Bacchus and Silenus" in a mythical scene. [4] Duncan also contributed cover art featuring a "Kelpie" from Celtic folklore.

Called a madman by some and a mystic by others, Duncan admitted to hearing 'faerie music' whilst he painted.[citation needed] Although his work remains strongly rooted in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, there is a certain graphical quality which sets it apart from his contemporaries and likens it to Art Nouveau, while the subject matter is thoroughly Celtic Revival; he is generally referred to as a "symbolist" by art critics.[citation needed] His interest in Celtic Revival was also shared by the Scottish singer Marjory Kennedy-Fraser; they eventually became close friends and Duncan painted her while on a trip to Eriskay in 1905.

His dreamy, mystical nature led him to fall in love with a woman whom he believed to have discovered the Holy Grail in a well in Glastonbury and who later divorced him. He was also a member of the Edinburgh Theosophical Society. He never remarried and died in 1945.[citation needed]



  1. [1]Duncan works online at The Athenaeum
  2. 2.0 2.1 Young, Clara. "John Duncan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 27 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Scottish National Gallery, 2016
  4. Geddes, Patrick. "The Evergreen". Retrieved 9 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>