Exhibition | Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 13, 2015

Press release (5 May 2015) from the Royal Collection Trust:

Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent
The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, 6 August 2015 — 7 February 2016
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 18 March — 9 October 2016

Allan Ramsay, Queen Charlotte with her two Eldest Sons, ca. 1764-69 (London: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 404922)

Allan Ramsay, Queen Charlotte with her two Eldest Sons, ca. 1764-69 (London: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 404922)

From the romantic landscapes of Caledonia to exotic scenes from the Continent, a new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse is the first dedicated to Scottish art in the Royal Collection. Bringing together over 80 works, including paintings and drawings by the celebrated artists Allan Ramsay and Sir David Wilkie, Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent tells the story of royal patronage and of the emergence of a distinctive Scottish school of art.

Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) was the first Scottish artist of European significance. A pre-eminent figure of the Enlightenment, the intellectual movement that swept across Europe in the 18th century, Ramsay maintained close friendships with philosophers such as David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 1760 he was commissioned to paint George III’s State portrait and subsequently became the first Scot to be appointed to the role of Principal Painter in Ordinary to His Majesty. Depicting the King in sumptuous coronation robes and breeches of cloth of gold, Ramsay produced the definitive image of George III and the most frequently copied royal portrait of all time.

Ramsay worked as a court artist, painting members of the royal family and producing copies of the coronation portrait for the King to send as gifts to ambassadors and governors. He enjoyed a good relationship with the Queen Consort, and his painting Queen Charlotte and her Two Eldest Sons, 1764, considered to be among Ramsay’s greatest works, combines the grandeur of a royal portrait with the intimacy of a domestic scene.

Over half a century later, Fife-born artist Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841) gained even wider recognition than Ramsay. His vivid, small-scale scenes of everyday life, inspired by those of the Dutch masters, were shown at the Royal Academy to great acclaim. Wilkie attracted the attention of the Prince Regent (the future George IV), who was acquiring 17th-century Dutch and Flemish genre paintings for his own collection. The artist’s reputation was sealed with two high-profile royal commissions – Blind-Man’s-Buff, 1812, and The Penny Wedding, 1818, which shows the uniquely Scottish custom of wedding guests contributing a penny towards the cost of the festivities and a home for the newly married couple.

George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822, the first by a reigning British monarch for nearly two centuries, offered a major opportunity for royal patronage. Artists were given prime access to all of the events in the two-week programme, which was masterminded by the writer Sir Walter Scott. The entrance of the King to his Scottish residence is captured in Wilkie’s The Entrance of George IV to Holyroodhouse, 1822–30. The King is shown being presented with the keys to the Palace, while crowds of enthusiastic spectators clamber over every part of the building to see him.

After suffering a nervous breakdown, brought on by overwork and a series of family tragedies, Wilkie set off on a prolonged visit to the Continent. He was one of the first professional artists to visit Spain after the Spanish War of Independence of 1808–14. Wilkie’s travels proved to be a turning point in his art, which became much broader in style and took inspiration from contemporary events.  On the artist’s return in 1828, the King summoned Wilkie to Windsor and purchased five continental pictures—A Roman Princess Washing the Feet of Pilgrims, 1827, I Pifferari, 1827, The Defence of Saragossa, 1828, The Spanish Posada, 1828, and The Guerilla’s Departure, 1828—and commissioned The Guerilla’s Return, 1830. The same year, the King appointed Wilkie to the position of Principal Painter in Ordinary, a post that the artist continued to hold under William IV and Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert saw their roles as patrons of the arts as part of the duty of Monarchy. Several pictures by Scottish artists were among the birthday and Christmas presents exchanged by the royal couple throughout their married life, including works by Sir Joseph Noël Paton (1821–1901), David Roberts (1796–1864), James Giles (1801–1870) and John Phillip (1817–1867). Queen Victoria had a deep love of Scotland and commissioned artists to record the country’s ‘inexpressibly beautiful’ scenery, including that of her recently acquired estate, Balmoral, in the Highlands. Among those artists was the Glaswegian William Leighton Leitch (1804–1883), who was appointed the Queen’s drawing master in 1846. Of all the Scottish artists whose work was collected by Victoria and Albert, it was William Dyce who was most in tune with Prince Albert’s tastes. Dyce was inspired by the early Italian art so admired by Albert, who purchased Dyce’s The Madonna and Child, 1845, and the following year commissioned a companion picture, St Joseph.

In the same period, the publication of travel books and growing interest in foreign cultures encouraged artists to seek inspiration abroad. David Roberts introduced British audiences to scenes of Egypt and the Holy Land, and was the first independent professional artist to travel extensively in the Middle East. A View of Cairo, 1840, shows the medieval Gate of Zuweyleh, and was one of Roberts’ first paintings of the region to be exhibited. Queen Victoria commissioned two Spanish pictures from Roberts as gifts for Prince Albert: A View of Toledo and the River Tagus, 1841, and The Fountain on the Prado, Madrid, 1841.

In the mid-19th century, there was a growing interest in Spanish culture, which was heavily romanticised in the literature of the day. When the artist John Phillip travelled to the country, his subject-matter changed from Scottish rural scenes to Spanish street life. Queen Victoria commissioned Phillip’s A Spanish Gypsy Mother, 1852, and purchased ‘El Paseo’, 1854, for Prince Albert. The Prince gave the Queen The Letter Writer of Seville, 1854, for Christmas. After a visit to the Royal Academy in 1858, Victoria acquired The Dying Contrabandista as a Christmas gift for the Prince that year. John Phillip was Queen Victoria’s favourite Scottish artist and, on his death in 1867, he was mourned by the monarch as ‘our greatest painter’.

Some notable Scottish works entered the Royal Collection in 1888, on the occasion of the opening of the Glasgow International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). This exhibition, held in Kelvingrove Park, was one of a series of international exhibitions and world fairs that dominated the cultural scene in the second half of the 19th century and the largest to be held in Scotland. The Prince and Princess of Wales were presented with ‘two elegant albums of paintings by members of the Glasgow Art Club’, including work by the Glasgow Boys: Sir James Guthrie (1859–1930), EA Walton (1860–1922) and Robert Macaulay Stevenson (1860–1952).

Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Distributed in the U.S. by The University of Chicago Press:

Deborah Clarke and Vanessa Remington, Scottish Artists 1750–1900: From Caledonia to the Continent (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2015), 210 pages, ISBN: 978-1909741201, $25.

9781909741201Throughout its history, Scotland has produced a wealth of great works of art, and the Scottish Enlightenment in particular provided a powerful impetus for new forms of art and new artistic subjects. This survey of Scottish art in the Royal Collection brings together more than one hundred reproductions of works from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century to highlight the importance and influence of this period, while also sharing recent research on the subject.

The first book devoted to Scottish art in the Royal Collection, Scottish Artists fully explores this rich artistic tradition, incorporating discussions of artists whose inspiration remained firmly rooted in their native land, such as Alexander Nasmyth and James Giles, as well as artists who were born in Scotland and traveled abroad, from the eighteenth-century portraitist Allan Ramsay to David Wilkie, who traveled to London and is well-known for his paintings portraying everyday life. Broadly chronological, the book also traces the royal patronage of Scottish artists throughout the centuries, including works collected by monarchs from George III to Queen Victoria, and the official roles, Royal Limner for Scotland and King’s Painter in Ordinary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: