Sholto Johnstone Douglas


Elizabeth Johnstone-Douglas  


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Robert Sholto Johnstone Douglas (3 December 1871 – 10 March 1958), known as Sholto Douglas, or more formally as Sholto Johnstone Douglas, was a Scottish figurative artist, a painter chiefly of portraits and landscapes.


He was born in Edinburgh, a member of the Queensberry family, part of the Clan Douglas. He was the son of Arthur H. Johnstone Douglas DL JP of Lockerbie (1846–1923) and his wife Jane Maitland Stewart, and the grandson of Robert Johnstone Douglas of Lockerbie, himself the son of Henry Alexander Douglas, a brother of the sixth and seventh Marquesses of Queensberry. His paternal grandmother, Lady Jane Douglas (1811–1881), was herself a daughter of Charles Douglas, 6th Marquess of Queensberry, so she was her husband's first cousin. Douglas's third cousin and contemporary John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (1844–1900) was famous for the rules of the sport of boxing. Another cousin was Lady Florence Dixie, the war correspondent and big game hunter.

Douglas studied art in London, at the Slade School of Fine Art and also in Paris and Antwerp.

Douglas's cousin Lord Alfred Douglas, or 'Bosie', was a close friend of the writer Oscar Wilde. When Wilde sued Bosie's father for libel when accused of "posing as a somdomite" (sic), this led to Wilde's downfall and imprisonment. In 1895, when during his trial Wilde was released on bail, Sholto Johnstone Douglas stood surety for £500 of the bail money.

In his Noel Coward: A Biography (1996), Philip Hoare writes of "...late nineteenth-century enthusiasts of boy-love; writers, artists and Catholic converts inclined to intellectual paedophilia, among them Wilde, Frederick Rolfe, Sholto Douglas and Lord Alfred Douglas."


He was at home in Scotland as a painter and as a sportsman, shooting, riding and sailing. He kept ponies brought back from a visit to Iceland. He came to attention at the Royal Academy by being the first artist to hang a painting there of a motor car, but was best known for his portraits and his Scottish landscapes, which "...portrayed, with a truly poetic sense of atmosphere, the subtle half-tones of his native countryside".

In 1897, Douglas visited Australia and New Zealand. His uncle John Douglas, a former Premier of Queensland and Governor of New Guinea, arranged for the author R. W. Semon to take Douglas with him on a visit to New Guinea. Semon wrote "This young Scotsman was just then staying with his uncle on Thursday Island, being on his way back to Europe after a voyage to Australia and New Zealand."


Sholto was well established as a portrait painter by this time, often being compared with Whistler. He painted the sisters of the painter Millais (see previous post about him) and his own sisters (of which he had eight!).

He became an official war artist during the First World War, painting British battleships. As a member of The Royal Naval Reserve he was stationed on the Isle of Skye as part of the Coastguard Service. He was also commissioned to paint pictures of the camouflaged ships for the Imperial War Museum.

Living in Provence inspired Sholto to paint landscapes in oil and watercolour. He also did pastel and charcoal sketches of people that he observed, working in the olive groves and fields.

This idyll was brought to an abrupt halt at the start of the Second World War. The family had to return to London and endure the Blitz. After several moves, Sholto ended up living in Suffolk, where he had a stroke which unfortunately affected his eyesight. He carried on painting, however, until his death in 1958, leaving the wonderful bequest of his art to the rest of us.


The Times newspaper in March 1958: "He was also a man who, in human terms, led a long life notable for its unassuming expression of civilized values. As a portrait painter he may be said to have belonged to the period of Sargent. But his vision and style were his own. Incidentally, he made Royal Academy history by introducing for the first time a motor car to its walls. But his enduring works will perhaps be his landscapes.....they portrayed, with a truly poetic sense of atmosphere, the subtle half-tones of his native countryside...with its tenuous greys and blues. Here in Scotland he was at home, not merely as a painter but as a sportsman, going out after geese, sailing his home-made sand-yacht at frightening speeds over the Merse, riding on horseback over the Lowland country, and looking after the ponies which he brought back with him from a trip to Iceland."


On 19 April 1913, Douglas married Bettina, the daughter of Harman Grisewood, of Daylesford. They had one son and one daughter, Robert Arthur Sholto Johnstone-Douglas (born 4 February 1914) and Elizabeth Gwendolen Teresa Johnstone-Douglas (born 2 June 1916).  Sadly Robert (Robbie) was never able to look after himself and Eliza took over his care after the death of her parents.

Douglas's daughter Elizabeth married, firstly, in 1954, William Craven, 6th Earl of Craven, and became the mother of Thomas, 7th Earl of Craven (1957–1983), Simon, 8th Earl of Craven (1961–1990).



1.  A cup was sold at auction in November 2014 bearing the Douglas coat of arms. The seller attributed it to 'FROM THE ESTATE OF DOUGLAS SHOLTO (THE CRAVEN FAMILY)'. This seems the most likely connection, and may have been disposed of when the Craven estate at Hamstead Marshall was sold off after the death of the 7th Earl.

2.  In 1939 Elizabeth Johnstone-Douglas, known as Eliza, had fallen in love with 'Bobbie', otherwise known as William Robert Bradley, the Earl of Craven. In 1939 some of his friends thought it was a big joke to get him drunk and take him to the Register Office where he married Irene Meyrick. Her full name was Gwendolyn Irene Meyrick . Irene (pronounced Ireenee) was the daughter of the notorious London nightclub owner, Kate Meyrick.
Several of her daughters married aristocrats, often accompanied by controversy.
Unfortunately the situation was not easily resolved as Bobbie Craven was a practicing Roman Catholic and as such could not get a divorce. It took fifteen years for him to get free of Irene and to be able to marry Eliza who had waited patiently for him.
The well-documented 'Curse of the Earls of Craven' stated that every Earl was destined to die before his Mother. Certainly none of the previous Earls lived beyond the age of 56 and poor Bobbie was to die from leukaemia at the early age of 47. He and Eliza had three children: two sons and a daughter.
Tom, the eldest, became the Earl of Craven in 1965 on the death of his Father. Very sadly, Tom suffered from schizophrenia and he committed suicide in 1983, leaving a young son, also Thomas, the child of his scottish girlfriend, Anne Nicholson.
His younger brother, Simon, became the eighth Earl of Craven but tragedy struck once more when Simon, a student nurse, crashed his car in Eastbourne and was fatally injured in 1990. His son, Benjamin Robert Joseph Craven born 13th June 1989 became the ninth Earl.
Eliza and Bobbie's daughter married Lionel Tarassenko and had three children but their marriage eventually failed, much to Eliza's distress.

This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024