Edwin Landseer was an English painter and sculptor who specialised in the depiction of animals and was Queen Victoria’s favourite painter. The Monarch of the Glen is his most famous artwork along with the four bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London. He visited the Highlands many times and, along with the Scottish landscape artist Horatio McCulloch, his work gave the Victorian world its view of nineteenth century Scotland.
Queen Victoria, who loved the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott, visited the Scottish Highlands often and modelled her Scottish home, Balmoral, on the writer’s home of Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders. Her enthusiasm for Scotland and for Scott’s mythical stories were imitated by the country’s population and became a prevailing fashion during the Victorian period. Many Scottish artists moved to England to provide ‘authentic’ paintings of Scottish stories and landscapes and many of those depictions and notions of Scotland continue to this day.
The stag, who appears out of the mist in a fictional Highland landscape, has 12 point antlers, which makes him a Royal stag not a Monarch stag (which requires 16 point antlers) and stands regally before the viewer, with his beautifully depicted damp nostrils, an emblem of the view of the noble highlander. Originally commissioned to be hung in the Palace of Westminster it has had several owners and was recently purchased from the drinks company Diageo for the National Galleries of Scotland by a group of partners and a public appeal. The image continues to fascinate and has been used to market and sell a myriad of Scottish products including Glenfiddich Whisky and Baxter’s Game Soup.
Within the Paisley Museum and Art Galleries this painting has been surrounded by similar artworks from its own collection, many of which are contemporary with the Victorian period. These include Autumn Afternoon on Loch Katrine by John MacWhirter (1839-1911) and Peat Moss, Poolewe by Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935) both of which depict fictional and idealised Scottish landscapes. It is interesting to compare these to the more realistic pre-Victorian landscape by Patrick Nasmyth (1787-1831).
Alongside the Museum’s lovely portraits and landscapes this is an impressive image of a powerful animal in a stunning Scottish landscape and I dare anyone, even if you consider it to be sentimental or out of touch, not to be impressed by its size and grandeur.
If you haven’t been to Paisley Museum and Art Gallery it’s only 10 minutes on the train from Glasgow Central and a five minute walk from Paisley Gilmour Street Station. It finishes on 11 March so don’t miss it before it heads off to Kirkcudbright.
For more information visit the National Galleries of Scotland website here
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