Exhibition | The Remaking of Scotland

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on June 18, 2018

Press release (12 June 2018) from the National Galleries of Scotland:

The Remaking of Scotland: Nation, Migration, Globalisation 1760–1860
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 16 June 2018 — 27 June 2021

A dynamic new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) explores how Scotland’s place in the world was dramatically transformed after the mid-eighteenth century, as the country emerged as a leader of European cultural life and a major force in Britain’s industrial and imperial expansion. The Remaking of Scotland: Nation, Migration, Globalisation 1760–1860 traces this remarkable transformation through the many extraordinary personalities who contributed to this turning point in Scottish history, bringing together a range of fascinating paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland’s outstanding collection.

George Willison, Mohamed Ali Khan Walejah, Nawab of the Carnatic, 1777, oil on canvas, 236 × 146 cm (National Galleries of Scotland, Bequeathed by Douglas Willison Clark 1994, PG 2959).

As well as tracing the changes that took place within Scotland in the areas of science, technology, and literature, it will also look beyond Scotland’s borders to highlight the many Scots who ventured further afield—as soldiers, sailors, administrators, artists, missionaries, and adventurers. Their destinations ranged across the world, and the exhibition showcases work featuring Scots with close relationships to India, the Americas and Arctic, as well as the Caribbean.

Among the portraits on display is a captivating new acquisition—a portrait of the lawyer Sir Thomas Strange (1756–1841) by the fashionable London painter John Hoppner. Strange was the son of a Scottish engraver and spent his entire career abroad, first in Nova Scotia, Canada and then in India. While in Nova Scotia he used his position as Chief Justice to protect runaway slaves from their masters. In India, he helped create the fusion between British Common Law and Hindu traditions that would be the foundation of the modern Indian legal system. Hoppner’s characterful portrait gives a vivid sense of Strange’s intelligence and fair-mindedness. Strange’s portrait will be shown with a number of other paintings highlighting the relationships between Scotland and India at this time, including Scottish artist George Willison’s dramatic portrait of his Indian patron, Ali Khan Waledjah, Nawab of Arcot (1717–1795).

Other highlights of the display include Alexander Nasmyth’s portrayal of John Sakeouse (1792–1819), the first arctic Inuit to travel to Scotland. Sakeouse attained instant celebrity from the moment he arrived in Leith in 1816 as a stowaway on a whaling ship and was particularly famous for his remarkable canoeing and harpooning skills, which he demonstrated at the docks. Nasmyth painted the portrait after spotting Sakeouse on the street and went on to give him drawing lessons. Sakeouse became an indispensable member of Admiral John Ross’s arctic expedition of 1817–18, acting as a translator and artist. Fittingly, Sakeouse will be shown alongside a portrait of Ross, one of the great explorers of his time and one of the first Scots of the period to be represented in the collections of the SNPG.

John Singleton Copley, Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton, ca. 1780, oil on canvas, 226 × 149 cm (National Galleries of Scotland, PG 1516; photograph by Antonia Reeve).

In addition to documenting the material and cultural benefits that came from this period of unprecedented achievement, the display will also consider some abhorrent contemporary issues. A particularly important theme is Scotland’s extensive involvement in the plantation economy of the Caribbean and its dependence on slave labour. Many Scots went to the Caribbean in the hope of making their fortunes, becoming plantation and slave owners on a large scale. Meanwhile, Scottish merchants in the great ports of Glasgow and Leith maintained a vast West Indies trade, importing slave-produced sugar, rum, and tobacco. Some became hugely wealthy, but they were only the most prosperous of the thousands of Scots who enjoyed secure incomes from plantation investments. Others, however, were inspired by religious and moral convictions to oppose the appalling human cost of the slave trade. In the face of fierce resistance, abolitionists, including the prominent Scottish liberal lawyer and politician, Lord Brougham (1778–1868)—also featured in the display—finally brought slavery to an end in 1838.

Warfare, too, was a constant feature of life in this period, as Britain’s imperial interests involved the many Scottish soldiers and sailors in the British armed forces in bloody land and sea battles. Two spectacular full-length portraits of soldiers in full Highland Dress, John Singleton Copley’s Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton (who served in the French and Indian War of 1754–63) and Sir Joshua Reynolds’s John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (made Governor of New York in 1770 and then of Virginia in 1771), show how the cost of war to life and health was made acceptable by the glory of victory.

Taken together, these diverse works give a vivid portrait of the richly complex, and sometimes controversial, legacies of this remarkable period, both at home in Scotland and across the wider world.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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