David Roberts was born in October 1796, in the city of Edinburgh, capital of Scotland. By ten years old, Roberts was apprenticed by Gavin Beugo, a house painter and decorator for seven years. During this period, the artist studied art in the evenings.
His first job was as a foreman in the redecoration of the Scone Palace, in 1815. After a brief time looking for work, Roberts began his career as a designer and painter of stage scenery on James Bannister’s circus. Bannister was very pleased with Roberts’ work and hired him to tour with his circus designing their sets. The tour started in April 1816, they traveled through Carlisle, York, Hull, and Newcastle, before their return to Edinburgh in January 1817. It is said that Roberts often participated in the clown’s skits as their foil.
Roberts soon became a stage designer at the Pantheon Theatre, in Edinburgh; however, this venture quickly closed due to financial failure, leaving the artist out of work. This made Roberts begrudgingly resort back to house painting, working at the Abercairny estate.
Roberts’ work at the Pantheon Theatre attracted the attention of the stage- manager Mr. Monro, who, in 1819, following the closure of the Theatre, arranged for the artist the position of principal scene-painter at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. By that time, the Scottish artist James Ballantine was Roberts’ apprentice.
By 1821, although being able to make a living from scene painting, Roberts began to dedicate himself to oil painting seriously. By 1824, the artist visited Normandy. The artworks Roberts created based on the said trip were well received and would lay the foundation for his future success.
Whilst building a reputation as a fine artist, Roberts was also able to stay commercially successful with his works for the theatre. One of Roberts’ most distinguished stage works was executing sets for the premiere in London of The Abduction from the Seraglio by the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in 1827.
During the 1820s, Roberts created compositions depicting various scenes from Scotland and England, as well as illustrious buildings in the Low Countries and France. By 1829, Roberts would already become a full-time fine artist.
In 1832, Roberts traveled through Spain and Tangiers. He returned in the following years with several sketches that he would later turn into fully realized paintings. Said production was met with great acclaim.
In 1838, Roberts went to Egypt, since the country was in vogue at the time and attracted the attention of collectors, artists, travelers, and antiquity lovers. During this trip, the artist thoroughly explored Egypt, the Sinai, Nubia, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Holy Land, always producing several drawings, sketches, and watercolors. Upon his return to England, Roberts worked along the lithographer Louis Haghe to produce the travelogue The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia, which often considered Roberts’ Magnus Opus.
During his last years, Roberts was mostly occupied with a series of views of the English capital from the River Thames. He was able to complete only six artworks of the said series before dying suddenly. On November 25, 1864, David Roberts collapsed and would pass away later that evening.