Manchester Art Gallery

A Spate in the Highlands

Peter Graham, 1836 - 1921

A Spate in the Highlands

Peter Graham 1836 - 1921


A dramatic Highlands landscape, depicting a river rushing towards the viewer, turned brown and swollen by the surge rainwater. The river runs through a valley between misty mountains, which are dark with the storm clouds, on either side. An arched bridge over the river has been half swept away in the torrent, a man who had attempted to cross can just be seen driving his cattle back to the river bank. A few rays of light are breaking through the heavy, dark, stormclouds, lighting parts of mountains in the background. A large tree lies on its side on the right bank, its roots exposed.

Display Label

A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness The popular idea of Scottishness in the 1800s came from Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), who fictionalised exciting episodes from Scottish history. He created a colourful Highland identity for his nation, based on the customs and landscape of the sparsely populated mountainous areas. For Lowland Scots – the majority of the population – it was a fiction they took up gladly, perhaps because it emphasised difference from the English. However, most Victorians, Scots and English, felt cultural difference to be perfectly compatible with political union. Queen Victoria’s regular visits to Scotland encouraged the English to view it as a simple country retreat. By the end of her reign her wealthier English subjects came to regard Scotland principally as an arena for shooting, fishing and golf. Artists from both sides of the border visualised the stags, castles, mountains and tartan that made up this Victorian myth. Their paintings reaffirmed impressions gleaned from Scott’s novels and from tourist guide books to Scotland. The fact that Scotland was an industrialised nation taking an active part in the British Empire was largely ignored. Popular art and literature fed the ‘tartan monster’, refining a checklist of clichés that even today remain key to the marketing of Scotland. A number of local industrialist patrons who bought paintings with Scottish subjects later gave them to Manchester Art Gallery. As a result the Gallery has a particularly good late Victorian collection. Here is ‘Scottishness’, as seen from Manchester in the late 1800s.

Object Name

A Spate in the Highlands

Creators Name

Peter Graham

Date Created



Canvas: 120cm x 176.8cm
Frame: 154cm x 210cm

accession number


Collection Group

fine art

Place of creation





oil paint

On Display

Manchester Art Gallery - Gallery 8
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Gift of Sir William Cunliffe Brooks


© Manchester Art Gallery

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