Edward Duncan

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Edward Duncan
Portrait of Edward Duncan.jpg
Portrait by Ferdinand Jean de la Ferté Joubert (1865)
Born (1803-08-21)21 August 1803
London, England
Died 11 April 1882(1882-04-11) (aged 78)
London, England
Nationality English
Known for Painting
Yarmouth Herring Boat by Edward Duncan, Watercolour and Pencil, 1849
A Shipwreck by Edward Ducan, Watercolour and Pencil, 1865
Shipping Of the Coast by Edward Duncan, Watercolour over pencil
Destroying Chinese war junks, 1843

Edward Duncan (1803–1882) was an English master painter, best known for his watercolours of coastal views. He was a member of the Royal Society of Watercolours and received Royal patronage from Queen Victoria.


Edward Duncan was born on 21 October 1803 at St Pancras in London. He was apprenticed to Robert Havell, the principal aquatint engraver of Audubon's Birds of America, perhaps the most significant natural history publication of all time. Duncan was thus afforded frequent opportunities of studying the works of Havell's brother, the watercolorist, William Havell. These developed his taste for drawing and the use of colour.

After tutelage under the Havell Brothers in London, Duncan started his own engraving studio, and primarily created print works for Fores of Piccadilly. In 1826, a project to engrave maritime scenes, after paintings by William John Huggins (the official artist to the royal court of King William IV, and King George IV) are said to have sparked Duncan's interest in marine subjects. In time, Huggins would become Duncan's father in law, through the marriage of his daughter, Bertha Huggins. The couple had six sons and one daughter, Berth(e)a.

The influences of both Havell and Huggins undoubtedly led to Duncan's long and successful career as one of Britain's foremost marine watercolorists.

Edward Duncan was a painstakingly skilled artist with his preferred media. In addition to his early training as an engraver, he did train in oil as well. Duncan's drawings comprise a wide range of subjects, treated with grace and truthfulness to nature, but even here, his best known works depict coast scenery, with shipping and craft admirably characterised.

Whilst his most sought-after works are his coastal scenes, Duncan also specialised in landscapes of the southern counties, often populated with animals and farms. In the face of the vogue for painting with body-colours, Duncan relied almost entirely on transparent colours. His watercolours are amongst the most technically defined and detailed paintings of the period and are considered to have a breadth and fluidity that bespeak the earlier traditions of British watercolour.

Duncan was a prolific exhibitionist with his paintings, showing more than 40 at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists, while including more than 500 watercolors and drawings within the shows of the Old and New Watercolor Societies during his career. His works include;

• The Shipwreck. 1859. • The Life-Boat. 1860. • Blue Lights. • Oyster Dredgers — Swansea Bay. 1874. • Landing Fish on the Sands at Whitby. • Fishing Boats making for the Harbour of Boulogne — early morning. * Spithead from the Isle of Wight. 1857.

In 1833 he was elected a member of the New Society of Painters in Water-Colours, but he resigned in 1847 and, in 1849 was elected an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society (then, the Society of Painters in Water-Colours), and a full member in the following year.

Between 1865 and his death in 1882 he spent almost every summer painting in the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea, painting the coastal scenes for which he was so well known.

He died in Hampstead, London, on 11 April 1882.

He had been a prolific painter. A sale of his works at Christie's in 1885 took three days; and a sale of 1887 lists nearly 2,000 of his sketches and paintings.

His works can be seen at most of the major museums and art galleries, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Maritime Museum.

Further reading[edit]

  • F. L. Emanuel, Edward Duncan R.W.S. painter ... (London: Walker Galleries, 1923), 38 p. (= Walker's Quarterly; 13)


This article incorporates text from the article "DUNCAN, Edward" in Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers by Michael Bryan, edited by Robert Edmund Graves and Sir Walter Armstrong, an 1886–1889 publication now in the public domain.

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