Purvis – John Milne Purvis (1885-1961)

From travel scholarship winner to head of painting; John Milne Purvis was born in Perth (31 August 1885) and died in Dundee (30 October 1961)

Early years

  • John was born at 9 South William Street on 31 August, only child to Andrew G Purvis, a railway yardsman, and his wife Margaret Ann Milne
  • On 4 October John became the very fist baby to be baptised in St Leonards-in-the-Fields Church on Marshall Place
  • John was educated at Perth Academy where he showed an interest in Art (under Francis M Black and David Scott Murray) and Science
  • From 1901-04 John served as a Pupil Teacher at his school, being involved in day, evening and Saturday classes
  • In 1904 John became Assistant Art Master to David Scott Murray

Student in Glasgow

  • In 1905 John enrolled at Glasgow School of Art
  • John took several prizes there and gained teaching experience
  • John graduated with a Diploma in Painting and Drawing as well as the coveted top prize for senior students, the Haldane Travel Scholarship, in 1908

Overseas travel

  • In 1908 John left Tilbury Docks bound for Naples
  • John travelled round Italy, returning to Perth in 1909 via Germany, Belgium and Holland
  • Back in Perth he resumed his role as Assistant to D S Murray at Perth Academy, and set up his own studio at 38 Tay Street

Teacher in Dundee

  • In 1910 John was appointed Assistant Master of Drawing and Painting at Dundee Technical College and School of Art
  • During his time there John exhibited his work in Scotland and England
  • John also undertook commissions for church decoration, stage sets and book illustrations
  • In 1915 John married Annie Stewart Nicoll in Dundee
  • From 1916-19 John saw active service during the First World War, in the Royal Engineers, The Royal Garrison Artillery and finally, the Heavy Artillery
  • On demobilization John resumed his teaching post at the Dundee College of Art
  • John was appointed Head of Painting and Drawing at Dundee in 1927, having unsuccessfully applied for the Headmastership
  • John held this post until his retirement in 1950, when he was succeeded by Alberto Morrocco

Exhibitor and traveller

  • John exhibited widely throughout his career
  • John also undertook several foreign trips to Tangier, Algiers, Malta, Patras, Syria, Constantinople, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Amsterdam, The Hague and London (variously between 1919-27), Morocco and Spain (1933-34) and the United States of America (1939)
  • John undertook a number of other commissions during this time, most famously his suite of 8 panels for the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Nicoll Street (destroyed by fire)
  • Inspired by the works of Shakespeare, these designs survive in Purvis’ vivid preparatory cartoons in the Perth collection


  • In 1994 the first major solo exhibition of John’s work was mounted at Perth Museum and Art Gallery accompanied by the publication of a short booklet of his life and work
  • Following that exhibition many examples of John’s work were gifted and subsequently bequeathed to Perth Museum and Art Gallery by his youngest and sole surviving daughter Dr Margaret Purvis

Find out more about John Milne Purvis

Copies of the 1994 Perth Musuem and Art Gallery exhibition booklet, John Milne Purvis 1885-1961 are available from Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

Works by John Milne Purvis in Perth Museum and Art Gallery

(It is not possible to display the entire collections at any one time. To view any of this material please contact the Art Section to make an appointment)


  • A Florentine Princess, pencil on paper
  • preliminary sketch design for the stage set of The Pageant of Dundee, May 1945, pencil on paper
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 3 Scene 3, pencil on paper


  • The Green Bottle, watercolour on board
  • King Lear, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor, watercolour on paper
  • The Tempest, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • Romeo and Juliet, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • As You Like It, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • The Merchant of Venice, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • Twelfth Night, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • Untitled, Allegory on Industry, watercolour and gouache on paper
  • The Pond, (also known as The Pond, Evening or By the Weir, Duntrune) watercolour on paper
  • The Eildons at Sunset, watercolour on paper

Oil paintings

  • “And Lately by the Tavern Door Agape…..”, oil on board
  • Self-Portrait, oil on canvas
  • Venetian Carnival, oil on board

Related material

  • Purvis’ Travel Diary 1908
  • Fra Lippo Lippi, A Play by Joseph Lee, published book illustrated by J M Purvis
  • J M Purvis Testimonials for the Post of Headmaster of Dundee School of Art 1927

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