The noise and bustle of the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh with its rambling old buildings and St Giles Cathedral in the background, the rich interiors of Holyroodhouse and the ruins of the Abbey, the heather-clad mountains and the fast-moving rivers of the Scottish Highlands, Tam O’Shanter’s Chair, Sir Walter Scott’s daughter alone in his former dining room, the Roman Carnival in the Piazzo Navona in Rome, the colourful costumes and architecture of Spain and the realities of the Spanish War of Independence, the atmosphere of a narrow street in Cairo with its medieval gateway and the minarets of the mosque in the background and architectural designs for a surprise 25th birthday party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. These are a few of the variety of scenes in “Scottish Artists 1750-1900: From Caledonia to the Continent”, one of three exhibitions of Scottish artists in London this spring.
The first exhibition was of works by Joseph Crawhall, one of the “Glasgow Boys”, from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow on display at the Fleming Collection in Mayfair. As this closed, the exhibition of Scottish artists from the Age of Enlightenment opened in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and, on 21st April, “New Scottish Artists”arrives at DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation). Organised in collaboration with the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, a selection from the 2015 degree shows at Scottish art schools will be on show alongside work by George Ridgeway, winner of this year’s Fleming-Wyfold Bursary and Edward Humphray, last year’s winner.
At the Queen’s Gallery, paintings, drawings, miniatures, sculpture and furniture created by Scottish artists from 1750 to 1900 illustrate how they represented life at home and abroad and how monarchs from George III onwards collected Scottish art of this period, including recent acquisitions by HM The Queen.
Historical events, portraits and views of Scotland and of the countries that Scottish artists travelled to in Europe and Egypt show the variety of work over this 150 year period. David Wilkie, for example, painted both “The First Council of Queen Victoria” (1837) and a series showing the realities of the Spanish War of Independence on the people of Spain, influenced by the time he spent in the country. Spain was also favoured by John Phillips in “The Letter Writer of Seville” (1854) and David Roberts, though the latter also evokes the atmosphere of old streets and mosques in “A View in Cairo” (1845) while William Dyce took inspiration from Italian Renaissance painters in “The Madonna and Child” (1845) and David Allan’s sketched the Carnival in Rome (1775). Kenneth MacLeay’s portraits of favourite staff at Balmoral were commissioned by Queen Victoria (1865/1866) and Andrew Nasmyth recorded the ancient High Street and Lawnmarket of Edinburgh in 1824, though the painting only entered the Royal Collection in 1949. Thomas Campbell and Lawrence Macdonald’s white marble busts from 1836 and 1846 flank John Pettie’s portrait of “Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse” (1891-2) and Robert Adam’s designs for the surprise birthday celebrations planned by Queen Charlotte for George III’s twenty-fifth birthday on the 4th of June 1763 show the amount of work for such an event. Alan Ramsey’s 18th century formal portraits hang above furniture by the Edinburgh firm Young Trotter and Hamilton and, a century later, “The Glasgow Art Club Album” of 1888 includes work by the “Glasgow Boys”.
One of the highlights is the large decorated automaton and musical clock by John Smith of Pittenween (1800-1808) with its painted dials by Alexander Nasmyth presented as a wedding gift to the Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) in 1923.
It is fascinating to see how the different works came into the Royal Collection, through commissions, gifts and as exchanges of Christmas presents between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria and there are a number of sketches and preparatory works alongside the finished paintings. Several of the sketches have been purchased by HM The Queen, including the preparatory sketch for David Wilkie’s “The Spanish Posada: A Guerilla Council of War” (1827) purchased in 1980 and the preparatory study of Queen Victoria’s head for the “First Council” (1837) purchased in 1990, plus James Giles’s sketchbook of 1848-56 purchased in 1993 which includes drawings relating to some of his works for Queen Victoria.