Waller Hugh Paton is said to have been the first Scottish painter to have ‘painted a picture throughout in the open air’ (George Gregory Smith, writing in Sir Sidney Lee (ed), The Dictionary of National Biography, London: Smith, Elder & Company, 1895, vol 44, page 38). Certainly he was one of the first in his generation to do so. Prolific and painstaking, he produced many fine views of the hill country of Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and especially the Isle of Arran, becoming well known for his sunsets. Waller Hugh Paton was born at Wooers’ Alley Cottage, Dunfermline, Fife, on 27 July 1828, the youngest of three children of the damask designer, Joseph Neil Paton, and his wife, the folklorist, Catherine (née McDiarmid). He was the brother of the leading Scottish Victorian fairy painter, Joseph Noel Paton, and the prominent sculptor, Amelia Robertson Hill. (In 1862, Amelia became the wife of the painter and pioneering photographer, David Octavius Hill.)
Though, at first, he assisted his father as a designer of damask, Paton soon developed an interest in landscape painting and, in 1848, at the age of 20, took lessons in watercolour from the historical genre painter, John Houston RSA. In that year, he exhibited his first painting, The Antique Room, Wooers’ Alley, by Firelight, at an exhibition in Glasgow.
Then, in 1851, he began to exhibit annually at the Royal Scottish Academy, beginning with the landscape, Glen Massan. He was elected an associate of the RSA in 1857, and became a full academician in 1865.
His early work displays the influence of both the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin, his brother, Noel, being a close friend of both Ruskin and John Everett Millais. He and Noel made sketching tours together to the Isle of Arran, in 1854 and 1855, and later in the same decade collaborated on illustrations to William Edmondstoune Aytoun’s Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers and Other Poems (published in 1863).
In 1859, Paton settled in Edinburgh, living at 33 St George’s Square with Noel and his growing family, and also their sister, Amelia. However, in the following year, he made an extended visit to London, where he made watercolour copies of works by J M W Turner (bequeathed to the National Gallery but then temporarily housed at the South Kensington Museum). While there, he also began to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy, first showing A Summer Storm. Then, in 1861, he made the first of two tours of the Continent, taking in Germany and Italy with Noel, and their young friend, Donald Mackenzie Wallace, who would become a journalist and writer. (The three men travelled together again in 1868.)
Paton’s developing success as an artist was marked, in 1862, by a commission from Queen Victoria to make a drawing of Holyrood Palace. In the same year, on 3 June, he married Margaret Kinloch, the eldest daughter of A J Kinloch of Park and Maryculter, Aberdeenshire. They would have four sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom was Waller Hubert Paton (1863-1940), who would become a sculptor. By 1870, the family was living at 14 George’s Square, Edinburgh. Later honours include his election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1869), an honorary member of the Liverpool Society of Painters in Water Colours (1872) and a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours (1878). Having suffered from ill health for the last ten years of his life, Paton died at home in Edinburgh on 8 March 1895.
His work is represented in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland.
Further reading June Baxter, ‘Paton, Waller Hugh (1828-1895)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 43, pages 63-64; June Baxter, Waller Hugh Paton: A Scottish Landscape Painter 1828-1895, St Andrews: Crawford Art Centre, 1993