John Pettie was a Scottish painter who enjoyed a brilliant career in London. He was born in Edinburgh on March 17, 1839 to Alexander Pettie and his wife, Alison. When Pettie was 12 or 13 years old his family moved to East Linton, a small town in Haddingtonshire, Scotland. As a youth Pettie had his heart set on music, and was a very good amateur musician, but when the time came he convinced his father that he wanted to study art. His father was not happy with the idea, but it’s said that upon his seeing Pettie’s drawing of one of the village lads with a donkey, his father gave up his objections.
He joined the Edinburgh Trustees Academy at the age of sixteen, taking lessons from several Scottish artists. Those men included W. M. Taggart, Tom and Peter Graham, J. MacWhirter, George Paul Chalmers and William Quiller Orchardson. His first painting for exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) was based on one of Sir Walter Scott’s literary novels. Pettie painted In Trabois House, which was a scene from The Fortunes of Nigel, along with two portraits for the RSA 1858 event. Next he did The Prison (1859) and the The Armourers in 1860. Pettie exhibited each year with very good reviews and had built a reputation with the success of his work.
His reviews for What d’ye Lack, Madam? in the 1861 Royal Academy exhibition, as well as his constant successes, were the reason he decided to move up in the world, location-wise. Pettie left Edinburgh in 1863, at the age of 24, to join up with Orchardson (31 years old), who’d gone to London just a year before. After working hard for three years in London, painting and doing illustrations, he joined the Royal Academy as an Associate in 1866. Years later Pettie became a Royal Academician, earning his diploma with his painting titled Jacobites, 1745 in 1873.
His marriage and family life began on 25 August 1865 when he married Elizabeth Ann Bossom. Still intrigued with music, he allowed a young Scottish composer named Hamish McCunn to use his studio for concerts, and at the same time he used McCunn as a model for some paintings, as well as for portraits. McCunn was around 20 years old at the time, from a wealthy family and a musical and lyrical genius. He and Pettie’s daughter fell in love and married in 1888. Pettie painted a picture of McCunn (holding a walking stick), Pettie's daughter, looking ecstatic, and another young man, walking along a rural pathway. He named it Two Strings to Her Bow, using the title as a pun or reference to McCunn's musical achievements.
During the 1860s Pettie had two very good patrons, one being John Newton Mappin, owner of the Mappin Art Gallery, and the other was Orchar Art Gallery. The latter was owned by James Guthrie Orchar (1825–1898), a successful inventor, businessman, and patron of the arts. Pettie’s talent and hard work paid off and he was able to move several times, each time to a better house or area. Eventually in 1882 he could afford to build a neo-Georgian home that he named “The Lothians”, which included a studio, in northwest London’s St John’s Wood. Sadly, it’s since been destroyed. John Pettie lived and painted until 1893, dying in Hastings in February of that year.