Curator’s Top Ten: Scottish landscapes

The curatorial team at the Scottish National Gallery are working hard to prepare for the creation of exciting new galleries dedicated to Scottish art.

Freya Spoor, Assistant Curator for 'Celebrating Scotland’s Art', The Scottish National Gallery Project, has selected her ten key landscapes in the collection. 

Freya explains: "Landscapes are a particular strength of the Scottish art collection. The changing styles and focus of these works show how the dynamic between people and place, natural and artificial is constantly evolving. 

"Each work has been selected because it represents a significant moment either in the development of landscape art in Scotland or in the artist’s engagement with landscape painting."

John Griffier & James Norie Taymouth Castle (View of Taymouth Castle from the south) begun 1733 and repainted 1739

1. James Norie and Jan Griffier, Taymouth Castle, 1733 and 1739 

This early example of Scottish landscape art can be read much like a map.  It documents information about the topography of the Taymouth estate in Perthshire as well as recent developments made to the garden and grounds surrounding the castle. 

In order to maintain the accuracy of this account, the painting was subsequently updated by Jan Griffier to reflect the latest modifications to the landscape.

Jacob More The Falls of Clyde (Corra Linn) probably 1771

2. Jacob More, The Falls of the Clyde (Corra Linn), 1771 

In this painting, More attempts to convey something of the experience of viewing this natural spectacle first-hand.  The viewpoint has been carefully selected to show the run of waterfalls that precede the largest of the falls, Corra Linn.

The cascades are framed on either side by a curtain of trees and rocks.  So awe-struck is one of the visitors that they have had to steady themselves on their companion’s arm.  

Sir David Wilkie Pitlessie Fair 1804

3. David Wilkie, Pitlessie Fair, 1804 

Made when Wilkie was just 19 years old, this painting depicts the annual cattle fair in the artist’s hometown of Pitlessie, near Cupar, Fife.  He made numerous studies of the animals, villagers and buildings surrounding the fairgrounds. 

This allowed him to achieve such a level of accuracy that the spot where he painted this picture is still identifiable today.  The scene is brought alive by the amusing interactions of the crowd including the groups of squabbling children in the foreground.

Alexander Nasmyth Princes Street with the Commencement of the Building of the Royal Institution 1825

4. Alexander Nasmyth, Princes Street with the Commencement of the Building of the Royal Institution, 1824 

In addition to capturing contemporary architectural developments, this painting alludes to various aspects of Edinburgh’s burgeoning cultural scene.  The gothic buildings of the Old Town had inspired the Romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott. 

The gable-end of the Theatre Royal is visible near the junction to the North Bridge.  The Royal Institution Building would become the home of the Royal Scottish Academy, which would offer training and exhibiting opportunities to artists across Scotland.

William McTaggart The Storm 1890

5. William McTaggart, The Storm, 1890 

McTaggart was born in Kintyre on the West Coast of Scotland and this place continually inspired his art throughout his life. He depicted the sea under a variety of weather conditions, frequently working out-of-doors. In this masterpiece of his later style, his frenetic brushstrokes mirror the turmoil created by the encroaching storm. 

His sparing treatment of the boats battling against the waves and the figures on the shore suggest human frailty in the face of forces of nature.

Phoebe Anna Traquair The Shepherd Boy Dated 1891

6. Phoebe Anna Traquair, The Shepherd Boy, 1891 

The profile of the shepherd boy is silhouetted against the landscape as he looks out to a point beyond the frame of the composition.

The strong outlines and flattened perspective give a decorative quality to the work. However, the landscape is acutely observed. The top of the Leaderfoot Railway viaduct is visible just below the boy’s arm and works to locate this scene in the Scottish Borders.

Sir James Guthrie Oban 1893

7. James Guthrie, Oban, 1893 

The dashed patchwork of brushstrokes composing the main buildings together with his sparing treatment of the figures on the esplanade gives a spontaneous feel to what was a bustling tourist town. Guthrie’s use of grey, blue and purple tones suggest that the light is fading.

The speed of execution, however, made mistakes more likely. This can be seen in his clumsy attempt to paint out the top of the lampposts which were too tall in relation to the rest of the composition.

Flora Macdonald Reid Market Scene (Bruges) 1895

8. Flora Macdonald Reid, Market Scene (Bruges), 1895 

Markets bring communities together. They are an opportunity not only to purchase goods but also to share news and debate current events. It was these exchanges, perhaps more so than the picturesque setting of Bruges, that prompted Reid to depict such scenes again and again.

She employed a distinctive blue and green colour palette. Depth is suggested by changes in handling from fine details like the lantern in the foreground to broad brushstrokes in the background.

Arthur Melville The Chalk Cutting 1898

9. Arthur Melville, The Chalk Cutting, 1898 

Melville’s insistence on such a restricted colour palette makes this landscape difficult to decipher.  He captures the unusual effects of light and shadow on the white edifices. This painting was made while the artist was working in Surrey. 

The subject may be a local quarry, or it could be the railway cutting made for the Quarry Tunnel, near Redhill which was opened in 1899. The experimental nature of the composition meant it was not exhibited within the artist’s lifetime.

George Leslie Hunter Reflections, Balloch About 1929 - 1930

10. George Leslie Hunter, Reflections, Balloch, 1929-1930 

This was one of the first paintings accepted by the National Galleries of Scotland that would form the basis of the contemporary art collection. The owner gifted it shortly after Hunter’s memorial exhibition in 1933 because he believed that the artist should be recognised at a national level.

It was made during the last years of Hunter’s life while he was staying near Loch Lomond. The bright colours and fluid brushstrokes capture warm sunlight reflected on the surface of the water.

Find out more about our ambitious plans to create amazing new gallery space dedicated to our collection of Scottish art