MacTaggart’s love of the sea began in his childhood, spent on the west coast of Scotland. An aptitude for portrait painting led him to Edinburgh in 1852 where he became one of a brilliant generation of students under Robert Scott Lauder at the Trustees’ Academy.
In 1857 he visited the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester, seeing paintings by the Old Masters and by Constable and Turner, for both of whom he had a lifelong admiration. His naturalistic style was influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelites whom he met in Manchester.
He published two plays, “The Wreck of the Hesperus” in 1861 and “Dora” in 1868. In 1870 he was made a member of the Royal Scottish Academy and exhibited there regularly until 1895. He made only three short trips to the Continent.
His highly expressive coastal landscapes, which capture moods and dissolve forms to the point of abstraction, reveal his acquaintance with contemporary painting on the continent. He never really became known outside his native Scotland.
His grandson, William MacTaggart the Younger (1903-1981) was also a painter.
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