John Rankine Barclay was born in Edinburgh in 1884. He studied at the Royal Institution where he met A R Sturrock. He was a member of the Edinburgh Group, a group of progressive painters that included J.G Spence Smith, D. M. Sutherland, William Oliphant Hutchison, William Mervyn Glass and A R Sturrock.
He painted in both oil and watercolour, frequently depicting figures in a landscape or a town setting in an individual and often experimental style.
His work was exhibited at RSA, RA, RSW and Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.