John Mair of Plantation: Art Patron and Collector of Works by the Foulis Academy’s Graduates


‘Plantation’, photographed by Thomas Annan for The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry, 1878.


Thomas Annan’s photograph shows the Plantation mansion, with the wings and offices which had been added by John Mair (died 1824). Paisley-born Mair purchased the property from John Robertson, who had given it its name after the sugar and cotton plantations he and his brothers owned in the West Indies.


A successful manufacturer, Mair was also a renowned art collector and patron, and this was acknowledged by several of his contemporaries, including James Denholm and Peter Wright.


In the 1804, and enlarged, edition of James Denholm’s The History of the City of Glasgow and Suburbs, page 552, the author wrote in his account of the villas and estates on the road to from Paisley to Glasgow:


“The seats and villas now increase in number on every hand; to particularize them all would be tedious and uninteresting; it may not, however; be improper to mention one, Plantation, a sweet and highly ornamented spot, the property of John Mair, Esq; a gentleman of distinguished taste. Mr. Mair possesses a number of fine paintings in every branch of the art, in particular, the principal productions of the late Mr. Allan of Edinburgh; whose skill in pourtraying Scotch characters, particularly in the lower scenes of life, has never yet been surpassed. Amongst these pictures by Allan, is the resignation of the crown by Queen Mary, and her flight from Loch Leven – the Highland family – Highland reel – John Anderson my Joe – and the Cottar’s Saturday night, from that celebrated poem by Burns. Prints are at present publishing of the last picture, engraved in London. The profits arising from the publication, Mr. Mair means to dedicate to the assistance of the widows of the poet and painter.”


Mair and his wife’s portraits were modelled by James Tassie, and examples are in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. He also was a subscriber to Rudolf Raspe’s Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems, Cameos as Well as Intaglios, Taken from the Most Celebrated Cabinets in Europe … by James Tassie, Modeller, 1791. Mair’s name is in the list of subscribers, and he purchased the Large Copy. See page 745 of the catalogue, number 14276, Cornelian Mr. Mair, Mrs. Mair, Engraved by Brown.


The impression of ‘Mrs. Mair’ can be seen by accessing the Tassie impressions on the Classical Art Research Centre website:



George Fairfull-Smith, September 2020.