John was the third of four children. One of his elder sisters, Agnes MacWhirter was also a noted artist of still lifes. He attended a school in Colinton, and after his father's death was apprenticed to Oliver & Boyd, booksellers in Edinburgh. He stayed there for only a few months and then in 1851 enrolled at the Trustees Academy under Robert Scott Lauder and John Ballantyne (1815–97). He spent long periods sketching and studying nature outdoors. His first painting to be exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy at age 14, was 'Old Cottage at Braid'. In 1880, he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Scottish Academy. Exploring and painting abroad he visited Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, Austria, Turkey, Norway and the U.S.A. - the Alps being a great inspiration. He moved to London in 1867 and on 4 May 1893 was elected a Royal Academician.
MacWhirter specialised in romantic landscapes with a great fondness for trees, spending much time in the hilly countryside of Perthshire. Initially, under the influence of John Everett Millais, he experimented with the detailed images of the Pre-Raphaelites, but later adopted a more sweeping style. With John Pettie he illustrated Wordsworth's Poetry for the Young (Strahan, 1863). With Waller H. Paton and others, MacWhirter illustrated The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Hislop, 1869).
He married Catherine ('Katie') Cowan Menzies (b. 1843) in 1872, her brother-in-law the Rev. James McFarlan officiating. The couple lived at 1 Abbey Road, St. John's Wood in the 1870s, and had two daughters and two sons:
- Agnes Helen ('Nan') *1873 x Charles Sims
- Helen Agnes *1875 x Sydney Malcolm Baird
- Ulric George *1878
- Alan Gordon *1882 x Doris May Cook
- MacWhirter, John Landscape Painting in Water-colour (London, Cassell), 1900
- Sinclair, W. M. John MacWhirter, R.A. : his life and work (The Art Annual), 1903
- MacWhirter, John The MacWhirter sketch book (Philadelphia, Lippincott), 1907; (London, Cassell), 1908
- "artnet AG Products - Investor Relations". www.artnet.com.
- "MacWhirter, John". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1154.
- "RootsWeb.com Home Page". wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com.
- Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1912. .
- "Wordsworth's Poems for the Young: With Fifty Illustrations by John Macwhirter and John Pettie, and a Vignette by J.E. Millais ; Engraved by Dalziel Brothers". Alexander Strahan & Company. 21 January 1863 – via Google Books.
- "John MacWhirter". Art UK. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John MacWhirter.|
- 66 paintings by or after John MacWhirter at the Art UK site
- Profile on Royal Academy of Arts Collections