He was born in Edinburgh. He studied at Foulis's Academy, Glasgow, and at the age of thirty went to Rome, where he spent five years. It was at this time that he became acquainted with Henry Fuseli. Runciman's earliest efforts had been in landscape; he now turned to historical and imaginative subjects, exhibiting his "Nausicaa at Play with her Maidens" in 1767 at the Free Society of British Artists, Edinburgh.
On his return from Italy, after a brief time in London, where in 1772 he exhibited in the Royal Academy, he settled in Edinburgh, and was appointed master of the Trustees' Academy. He was patronized by Sir James Clerk, whose hail at Penicuik House he decorated with a series of subjects from Ossian. He also created various religious paintings and an altar-piece in the Cowgate Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, and easel pictures of "Cymon and Iphigenia", "Sigismunda weeping over the Heart of Tancred", and "Agrippina landing with the Ashes of Germanicus."
His works, while they show considerable imagination, are frequently defective in form and extravagant in gesture. His younger brother, John Runciman, who accompanied him to Rome, and died at Naples in 1766, was also an artist of great promise.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.