Painter. Born in Edinburgh, Pettie moved with his family to East Linton in 1852 where he became set on an artistic career. At sixteen he entered the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh, where he studied art under Robert Scott Lauder (1803-69) and alongside William McTaggart (1835 - 1910), William Quiller Orchardson (1832 - 1910), Peter Graham (1836 - 1921), John MacWhirter and G.P. Chalmers (1833-78).
His works include portraits, together with paintings inspired by historical events and literature. In 1858, he exhibited his first work at the Royal Scottish Academy, entitled A Scene from the Fortunes of Nigel, which was inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott. He was soon exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy in London and, in 1861, Pettie began publishing illustrations in the magazine Good Words. The success of his work in London encouraged him to move south in 1862, where he joined his friend Orchardson. He went on to illustrate Wordsworth's Poetry for the Young (1863).
Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1866 and a full Academician in 1874, Pettie was renowned for his hard work and for the speed of his painting. His historical works, which were often melodramatic, involve both Scottish and English subjects. These include Cromwells Saints (1862), A Drumhead Courtmartial (1865), Jacobites, 1745 (1866), Tussle with a Highland Smuggler (1868), Monmouth and James II (1882), The Chieftains Candlesticks (1886) and a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie (1892). The Vigil (1884) was bought for the nation by the Chantrey Bequest and hangs in the Tate Gallery alongside his self-portrait of 1882.
The National Portrait Gallery (London) holds four works by Pettie; the subjects being composer Hamish MacCunn (1868 - 1916), George Campbell, the 8th Duke of Argyll (1823 - 1900), fellow artist George Paul Chalmers and the English novelist Sir Henry Ryder Haggard.
Pettie died at Hastings (Sussex).