Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scotland Forever!

You may not know, because very little of it has appeared on the news, but today Scotland decides if it wants to remain part of the United Kingdom.  While this has been on the cards for quite a while now, things have got really rather emotional and heated over the last few weeks of the campaigns, where the polls have swung back and forth like A&E department doors on a Saturday night.  I have no idea who will win, but tomorrow will bring many, many changes for everyone in this lovely little collection of islands.  In the meantime, I thought I'd take a gratuitous wander through some Victorian paintings about Scotland...

Scotland Forever! Lady Elizabeth Butler
Obviously I couldn't do a post about Victorian Scottishness without dragging in this whopper by Lady Butler.  I remember seeing it in the flesh and thinking 'Bloody Hell!' because it has a vivid fury and passion that is reflected in the recent events north and south of the border.  The Victorian period shaped much of how we see and feel about Scotland today, both better and worse, but I love the barking mad bravery of this image.  I don't care that the Royal Scots Greys didn't gallop into Waterloo, but I do feel the sacrifices made by the regiment, so many of them dying, is reflected in this death-or-glory plunge.

Monarch of the Glen (1851) Edwin Landseer
Queen Victoria's love of Scotland and her vision of it still remains with us today.  Take this almost cliched image, the Monarch of the Glen, possibly one of the country's best known pictures.  You could almost extrapolate Victoria's attitude to her subjects north of the border from this painting.  The Scots were proud, wonderful and picturesque, and slightly unruly, but no more than a stag.  Compared with the Scotland of previous centuries, this is an intellectual domestication beyond compare.  Tudor Scotland for example was easily England's equal in intrigue and knowledge, a place of thought and reason, in the end taking over the throne of its rival, its sibling country.  Victorian Scotland is seen as a different place, a safer place.  Well, at least for the English.

The Trial of William Wallace William Bell Scott
Not that there weren't reminders of the past, but the Victorians loved a melodrama from history, and this heroic depiction of Wallace is in keeping with the images of other anti-English figures such as Mary Queen of Scots or Joan of Arc.  They become polished to the point of fiction, and the Victorian's seemingly felt no conflict with worshiping and sanctifying the enemy from the past once they had been made-over to become beautiful, tragic figures.  Again, the 'enemy' becomes a beautiful, majestic, strong creature that gains the audience's respect.  I suppose in some ways there would be little glory in inevitable English defeat of them otherwise.

Catechising in a Scottish School (1832) George Harvey
Ah, religion.  Well, Victorians took obvious comfort in the fact that religion played as big a part in their neighbour's life as it did in their own.  Look how the central group of good children glow with the goodness of what they have learnt!  They won't be causing anyone any trouble.  It's unlikely that much of the audience of this picture read in to it the rich religious history of Scotland being narrowed to a view of small children reciting the Lord's Prayer.  Probably most people thought 'Ahhh, how sweet...'

Collecting the Offering at a Scottish Kirk (1855) John Phillip
The gentleman wrapped in tartan carrying the box on a stick is there to mark this painting out from all the other 'slice of life in church' scenes that were popular at this time.  You have the usual suspects on display: widow giving her meagre pennies, mother with her cute but naughty children, wealthy man  checking out a bustle  while getting his money out.  It's all jolly, and the little boy who looks like he's barely awake is marvellous.  He's in despair as his sister appears to be a ventriloquists dummy.  The shame.

Two Bairns John Everett Millais
Lawks.  Nothing renders the proud history of a country completely benign as using children to conjure a nation.  These two, gorgeously attired and wonderfully groomed, are difficult to explain fully.  Both dressed in clothes that scream national pride, yet consists of a tamed and invented version of national dress.  I am reminded, probably unfairly, of the Civil War portraits of younger sons of Cavaliers, dressed up as emblems of their parents beliefs.  Mind you, there is a lack of explanation, a lack of compromise even within an adopted costume that I like, especially in the figure of the boy.  Look at all that hair!  I think there is more communicated by this image than I feel able to read into it.  The girl seems like another Millais cutie-pie, the boy looks more intense.

Breakfast in the Highlands (1865) John Phillip
Let me guess, it's porridge.  Quick, put the brioche away!  The artists are coming!  This is probably what your average Victorian wanted to see - nice, cheery Scottish children, with lots of porridge and a nice scarf.  I'm sure this is what my forebears were like. Goodness, if I had a quid for every time a non-Scottish person had prefaced an opinion about Independence with 'Of course, I'm from Scottish descent...' I'd be able to buy the Shetlands.  I have ancestors who lived in Peru, can I weigh into the debate on Paddington Bear's voice, please?

Evening in the Highlands Charles Leslie
Actually I do have a Scottish ancestor, the improbably named Euphemia Virtue, but that was a long time ago and doesn't count, so if Scotland vote 'Yes' I have to give my name back in 2016.  True story.

Sheep in the Highlands (1857) Rosa Bonheur
Lovely landscape is what I tend to think of when I think of Scotland.  I would love to see the mountains and all that glorious expanse.  I've only been to Edinburgh, where the jolly chap who ran the B&B told us all the places nearby that English people had been slaughtered in history while Scottish people had invented golf.  We had a lovely time and I got to drink whisky at the whisky museum at about 9.30 in the morning.  Lawks.

The Missing Boat (1877) Erskine Nicol
As Scotland faces the future this evening, I'm sure most people in England are wondering what life apart would be like.  Lily is worried about the flag and what happens to it, we're worried about pensions, elections and all of the things that don't seem to have been explained properly by either side of the debate, just depending on sentiment and fear to swing votes one way or another.

 I wish Scotland the very best of luck if it goes, but if it stays I'd be grateful.  Come on, you can't leave the rest of us alone with Westminster, we're not allowed to leave.

Well, not until we get independence for the Kingdom of Wessex...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the topical blog Kirsty. Two of my great grandfathers were Scottish, and a third was a Pattison, ( a Scottish name if you didn't know). The fourth was from Norfolk, (England), still have cousins over the border, so I'm a good mix. I'm glad we are still a United Kingdom. Oh and by the way some lovely images that I haven't seen before.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx