Desolate snowscapes. Dramatic stag hunts. Castle ruins. Tartan cloth. Highland cattle. Are these Victorian stereotypes of Scotland enduring and were they ever a fair representation of the nation?
To coincide with the run-up to the Scottish referendum, we presented some of our most popular 19th century paintings and works on paper by Scottish artists. These were displayed alongside depictions of Scotland by artists from England, which together were used to explore how ideas of Scotland and Scottishness have changed over the last two centuries.
Dating from about 1830 to 1904, the works ranged from depictions of classical castle ruins to romanticised portrayals of Highland cattle. Highlights include A Spate in the Highlands by Peter Graham, a couple of rarely-seen watercolours by JMW Turner and Portrait of Sir Alexander Keith by Sir David Wilkie.
Works by leading Scottish artists including Joseph Farquharson and John MacWhirter and popular English artists such as Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Edwin Landseer were exhibited.
Important artworks such as The Chase by Richard Ansdell and Craigmillar Castle by the Reverend John Thomson of Duddingston were on display for the first time since undergoing vital conservation treatment. This exhibition also provided an opportunity to see a rare printed textile based on a Sir David Wilkie painting (and borrowed from the Whitworth Art Gallery) and a beautiful mid-1860s tartan dress from the gallery’s costume collection (held at Platt Hall).
By placing the works in a contemporary context, A Highland Romance explored what it means to have these artworks within Manchester’s collections; how ideas of Scottishness have changed (or not); what it means to be Scottish and what Scotland means to the nation.