Scottish painter born in Paisley, to a family unable to fund full time study of art. As an apprentice engineer, after working as a laborer in the Clydeside ship yards, Sivell took evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art from 1908-1910 where he studied under Fra Newberry, then left to complete his engineering training. During WWI Sivell served as an engineer in the Merchant Navy, which took him to South America. In 1914 he returned to Scotland to work and paint; he and fellow artist Archibald McGlashan rented studio space together. Sivell, McGlashan, and James Cowrie painted together, founding the Glasgow Society of Painters & Sculptors in 1919, with Sivell as the first president (followed by sculptor friend Benno Schotz). The Society was a response to perceived rigidity and conservatism of the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, and although the society was short-lived, with only three exhibitions at the McClellan Galleries, all four artists were later recognized and elected to the Royal Scottish Academy of Painters and Sculptors.
Sivell traveled to France and Italy to broaden his artistic horizons. In 1923 he married Kirkcudbright born Isobel Sayers, and built a studio across the River Dee from the town center. His studio was later expanded to be the home where the couple raised their daughter Elspeth (The Hollow, Stell) next door to fellow artist John C. Lamont, married to Isobel's sister Elspeth. Sivell has the reputation of being brusque and opinionated, and he may have struggled financially in part due to his determination to remain true to his artistic principles. In 1936 Sivell became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, and took a post teaching at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen in 1937 for the steady income he needed. He served as Head of Painting there from 1942 to 1954 when he retired. Sivell became an R.S.A. Academician in 1943, and during WWII he served on the War Artist's Advisory Committee. He retired to his beloved home in Kirkcudbright, where he died in 1958, living long enough to meet his three grandchildren. He, and later his wife, were buried together on the hillside behind their home, according to their own wishes.
Sivell was particularly recognized for his skill with portraits; he painted many portraits of friends & family, along with commissions from private individuals and institutions, including the Imperial War Museum. His work was shown & sold in many galleries around Scotland, Ireland, and one in London, and he was recognized with a number of awards. He was also known for his series of large murals in the Aberdeen University Student Union building, depicting Scottish life, war scenes, and idyllic scenes inspired by the youth, beauty, and the four seasons. The murals were the worked of many years, and were never quite completed to the artist's satisfaction. They have been designated by the City of Aberdeen for preservation based on their artistic & historic value.
Several paintings, including studies for the murals, are held by the Aberdeen Art Gallery. Other works by Robert Sivell are in public collections with the City of Edinburgh Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, the Stewartry Museum, Glasgow Museums, Gracefield Art Centre, the Hunterian, the Imperial War Museum, McLean Museum & Art Gallery, National Museums Northern Ireland, Paisley Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, and Robert Gordon University. Images of most of these works can be viewed online in the ArtUK.org catalogue.
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