Just about to post this - and I see fp has been thinking on the same lines as me!
I've found out some things - but unfortunately can't trace the current
whereabouts of any paintings. So here goes:
After finding John Davidson the portrait painter's details in the 1881
census, I had search terms which led to a thoroughly-researched
genealogy page. I've been able to confirm part of it, though not all.
(See the links and suggestions for further research below.)
Davidson was born in or near the village of Pentland a few miles south
of Edinburgh about 1825 or a little later. He had lots of brothers and
sisters, some born in Edinburgh/Midlothian, but others in Fife and
Angus. His father, Thomas, organised sales of farm crops, horses,
wood, pasturage etc. At his death in 1865 he was called an
auctioneer/appraiser. Shortly before he died John and another son took
out a newspaper announcement to say they would continue the business,
but the sale advertisements stopped after a couple of years.
Number 2, West Lauriston Place was probably a tenement, several
"houses" leading off one "common stair". (In Scotland tenement houses
were/are normal - it doesn't mean slummy.)
JD seems to have been a (house?) painter's apprentice in his early
years. He married Christina Dewar and had six children. They were
still in W. Lauriston Place in 1871. In 1881 he and his family were in
a newly-built house with garden in the expanding southern suburb of
Newington. He was still living in 1891, by which time they had moved
to another fairly new house not far away.
In the year Christina died, 1896, she was already a widow, but I
didn't find a date for JD's death. Three of the four daughters were
teachers of one kind or another (music, kindergarten, dress-making).
One son was a photographer and art student, another a commercial
Here's the genealogy page:
Searching newspaper archives reveals that two of his portraits
exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) were of prominent
In 1863 they showed his painting of the Rev. Dr. John Duncan, quite an
important figure at the time, scholar at New College, now part of
Edinburgh University. In 1886 he exhibited a portrait of Rev. Dr.
Wilson, a Dundee minister who would have spent time in Edinburgh on
JD was not a full member of the RSA - (he isn't listed on their site)
- but he must have been considered good to have so many paintings
Finding his paintings may be very difficult. I would suggest
contacting public art galleries in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh,
. . . and also lots of dealers in 19th century Scottish painting. One
suggestion for you is the picture specialist at this long-established
It could possibly be worth following up the Church connections.
A link for the Rev. John "Rabbi" Duncan:
Wilson commemorated by a much-mocked poet:
Here's someone who has a "little Christmas engraving" of JD's.
1) Buy a 24/48 hour pass to The Scotsman digital archive. You'll find
two references to John Davidson exhibiting at the Royal Scottish
Academy. (1863 and 1886) There may be more - the search system isn't
perfect and it's slow work.
You'll also find ads for auctions organised by the Davidson business,
and obituaries of the two ministers in the portraits.
2a) If you're in Edinburgh visit the Central Library on George IV Bridge.
Go to the Fine Art Library and ask to see a book which probably has
details of JD's paintings shown at the RSA: "The Royal Scottish
Academy 1826-1916: a complete list of the exhibited work."
There are several used copies of this listed at:
The librarians may be able to suggest other resources for you.
2b) Drop in to the Edinburgh Room at the same library and see if a
librarian there can help you.
3) Contact lots and lots of galleries and picture dealers.
4) Buy a few pounds' worth of credit for genealogical research here:
You could follow this up personally in Edinburgh.
5) If some paintings are still in the area, it could be worth
advertising in the free local paper, delivered to nearly every
Good luck - Leli