|Robert Walker Macbeth painted contemporary genre scenes of rural and fishing communities as well as historical genre scenes in the manner of William Quiller Orchardson. The setting for his Diploma work, romantic and sentimental in tone, may be Brittany since it relates stylistically to his ‘Fishing girls on a Quay, Douarnenez, (oil on canvas, 1878). Although executed in oils, ‘The Lass that a Sailor loves’ has some of the qualities of a watercolour drawing, in its freshness of tone and crispness of colour.|
Robert Walker Macbeth, was the son of the portrait painter Norman Macbeth (1821-1888) and brother of the artist Henry Raeburn-Macbeth, A.R.A. (1860–1947). He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy School and first exhibited at the RSA in 1867. He exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1869, moving to London the following year and began to work for The Graphic. Macbeth attended the Royal Academy Schools from 1871 to 1872. He exhibited at the RA regularly from 1873 until 1904 and also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery.
Macbeth was deeply influenced by the work of British ruralists of the 1860s such as George Heming Mason, Fred Walker and G.J. Pinwell. Reviewing the Royal Academy exhibition of 1881 the critic for The Times noted:
‘Mr. Macbeth is the only artist now living among us who retains the power of the late Fred Walker of giving to his peasantry the simple dignity of movement and something of the antique nobility of form which we are accustomed to connect with the thought of Grecian sculpture. That he is able to do this without sacrifice of truth is no small praise.’ (27 June 1881, p. 12)
From the mid 1870s to late 1880s he spent long periods in the fenlands of Lincolnshire, painting scenes of field labourers such as ‘A Lincolnshire Gang’ (1876), and ‘Potato Harvest in the Fens’ (1877). These rural subjects were to feature consistently through the remainder of Macbeth’s career.
As well as painting in oils and watercolours Macbeth was an accomplished etcher. He made etching after the works of contemporaries such as F. Walker, G. H. Mason, W. Dendy Sadler and Edward Burne-Jones as well as a series of etchings after paintings by Velásquez and Titian in the Prado, Madrid.
He illustrated F.G. Jackson's A Thousand Days in the Arctic (1899) and contributed illustrations to journals such as Once a Week, The Sunday Magazine, and English Illustrated Magazine.
Macbeth was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1883 and a member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1901. He was one of the first members of the Society of Painter–Etchers and was appointed an honorary member of the society in 1909.