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The Blind Ossian Singing and Accompanying himself on the Harp

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The Blind Ossian Singing and Accompanying himself on the Harp About 1772

Not on display

  • Scottish Art
In 1771 Runciman returned to Scotland after a prolonged trip to Italy. Before his trip he had made a promise to Sir James Clerk of Penicuik, 3rd Baronet, that he would decorate the great hall and staircases of Clerk’s newly built manor, Penicuik House. Clerk had funded Runciman’s trip to Italy, and conversed with him about his intentions for the decorations while abroad. He had originally intended to paint a cycle based on scenes from classical mythology, but at some point he changed his mind in favour of subjects from the poems of Ossian, a fictitious third-century Celtic bard. The decorations at Penicuik (sadly destroyed by fire in 1899) were Runciman’s masterpieces. This drawing shows his unfinished designs for the central oval of the ceiling.

Glossary Open


Refers to figures and events from myths which are the ancient stories that usually explain the origins of historical or natural phenomena.


In 1765, the Scottish poet-historian James MacPherson published a collection of poems in English called 'The Works of Ossian'. MacPherson claimed that he had translated them from an original ancient manuscript that was written in Scots Gaelic. He stated that the manuscript was the work of the blind poet and warrior Ossian, son of Fingal, supposedly a third century Scottish king. The poems have long been regarded as one of Scotland’s most sensational and controversial literary productions. Debates over the authenticity of the poems persisted, but the controversy actually fuelled their popularity and appeal.

Mythological, Ossian


  • Acc. No. D 299
  • Medium Pen and brown ink wash (touched up with oil colour) on paper
  • Size Oval: 46.60 x 59.90 cm
  • Credit David Laing Bequest to the Royal Scottish Academy transferred 1910