The Wallace Collection

Edwin Landseer, A Highland Scene, c.1834 (P373)
Treasure of the Month - May 2005

Edwin Landseer, A Highland Scene, c.1834 (P373)

This month’s Treasure of the Month has been chosen to complement a major exhibition now on display in Edinburgh at the National Gallery of Scotland: The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands (on show until 10 July).

Edwin Landseer (1802(?)-73) was the most popular and financially successful artist of early and mid-Victorian England. He specialized in animal subjects, particularly dogs and deer, though he also painted landscapes and portraits. He enjoyed great favour with Queen Victoria who gave him many commissions, particularly for subjects that reflected their shared enthusiasm for the Scottish Highlands. Even when his later life became blighted by alcohol and mental illness she continued to take a personal interest in his welfare.

The London born Landseer first went to Scotland in 1824 when, due mainly to the fame of its greatest author, Walter Scott (whom Landseer met on this visit), the country had attracted the attention of people far beyond its borders. The romantic appeal of its mountains, its picturesque costume and bloody history – so prominent in Scott’s novels and poetry - made Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, better known and more fashionable with cultured European society than they had ever been before. Although Landseer paid little attention to Scottish history, he made the country still better known through his many works celebrating the beauty of the Highlands and the drama of hunting there. A keen huntsman, almost every autumn he visited the Highlands, staying with aristocratic landowners on their new deer hunting estates.

This picture is probably an early work, painted about 1834. Attempts have been made to identify it as an illustration (particularly to one of Scott’s productions), but it is probably an invented scene. The subject has enabled Landseer to include not only a view of a Scottish loch and mountains, as well as two of his beloved dogs, but also a Highland couple (she with a plaid shawl; he with a beret now known as a ‘Balmoral’), and a scruffy work horse very different from the graceful mare and foal he painted later in his Arab Tent (on display in the Front Hall). The painting, recently cleaned, reveals Landseer’s typically masterful handling of juicy paint.

A Highland Scene was acquired by the Lord Hertford, father of Sir Richard Wallace, at auction in 1859. Its high cost, 815 guineas (£855 15 shillings), reflects Landseer’s enormous reputation in mid-Victorian England. Lord Hertford’s London agent Samuel Mawson had told him the painting was coming up for sale and he had replied, ‘We must have [the] Landseer, the White Horse’. Hunting subjects by Landseer were not to Lord Hertford’s taste – indeed he rejected another painting by the artist because it had ‘blood on all the animals’ – but this work was entirely in accord with his insistent taste for ‘pleasing’ pictures.

Further Reading

  • Richard Ormond (and T.C. Smout), The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands, Edinburgh, The National Gallery of Scotland, 2005