Frances Matilda (Fanny) McIan lived from 1814 to 7 April 1897. She was an English artist especially known for her scenes of the Scottish Highlands. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Frances Whitaker was born in Bath in south-west England. In 1831 at the age of 17 she ran away to London with 28 year old Robert McIan, whom she subsequently married. He was an actor from Inverness who also later made his name as an artist. In London the two rapidly became an integral part of the city's large Scottish community. They also developed their shared artistic talents, Robert McIan finally giving up acting altogether to concentrate on his art from the 1840s.
While Robert McIan worked on illustrations for books like The Clans of The Scottish Highlands (1845) and Picturesque Gatherings of The Scottish Highlanders (1848), Fanny McIan was producing a series of highly successful prints that did much to shape Victorian society's romantic perceptions of the Highlands and of the Jacobites. These included Highland Refugees from the '45 in 1845, After the battle of Prestonpans in 1849, and Highland Emigration in 1851. In 1854 she became only the second woman to be elected an Honourary Fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy.
In 1842, Fanny McIan was appointed Head of London's Female School of Design, a post she held until 1857. Robert McIan died in 1856. In 1858 Fanny married Richard Unwin, an Argyll landowner. After his death in 1864 she inherited his property in Argyll. Fanny died in 1897, a non-Scot who did much to promote and popularise a romantic view of Scotland to an increasingly enthusiastic Victorian society.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".