Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, Robert McGregor was the son of a Scottish businessman. The McGregor family returned to Scotland whilst Robert was still a young boy and settled in Edinburgh. Despite having no art training, McGregor was employed by a firm of publishers as a book illustrator and it was around this time that an unknown French artist gave him lessons in painting and draughtsmanship. He subsequently enrolled at the Royal Scottish Academy Life schools and exhibited for the first time in 1873 when he was only twenty-six. He continued to exhibit at the RSA until 1914 and showed a total of two hundred and three pictures.
McGregor made frequent visits to France and Holland; particularly Normandy where, Bastien Lepage and Millet, he was inspired by the lives of the fishermen and their families, particularly the female workers, as they went about their work collecting kelp, cockles and shrimps. Painted in the beautiful silvery tones for which McGregor became renowned, 'Mending the Nets' is a superb example of his work.
The eminent Scottish art historian James Caw wrote of McGregor as "Perhaps the first Scottish genre painter to apply rigorous study of tone in his work; a capable draughtsman and pleasant, if restricted, colourist and although he has learned much from some of his modern Dutchmen, his pictures have an individuality and sentiment of their own."
Peter McEwan praised McGregor's use of subdued, refined colour in his Dictionary of Scottish Artists; "At the beginning he was most interested in tone but instead of combining it with full local colour, he preferred quiet values and the gentler more subtle light of the Dutch coast."
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