Inspired by paintings of the Highland landscape and its cattle by Victorian artist Peter Graham – from the National Gallery of Scotland and Perth Museum and Art Gallery – this project shows how historical works of art can be reinvested with contemporary meaning.
Graham’s works were chosen as the inspiration for this project because they encapsulate the Victorian era’s view of the Highlands as a romanticised region – Sir Walter Scott’s ‘land of the mountain and the flood’. In 1866 Graham moved from Edinburgh to London and exhibited at the Royal Academy, where his ‘blockbusters’ revived the romantic landscape tradition and were very popular with aristocrats and moneyed Scots.
These images of misty Highland glens with fly fisherman and sheep (Wandering Shadows, 1878), and free-ranging cattle (Moorland Rovers 1876), present the preferred Victorian image of Scotland as historically and geographically distinct from urban modernity. Graham’s skilled creations of light and atmosphere are composite views based on outdoor sketches that achieve picturesque status with the addition of wild and ‘noble’ cattle and a ‘sporting’ highlander.
Crieff, nestling in Strathmore on the southern fringe of the central mountain ranges, was seen as the gateway to the Highlands. Its position at the convergence of several routes southward meant that by the 1750’s it had become the main market for buying and selling cattle reared throughout northern Scotland. Buyers from England and Scottish cities met here at these ‘trysts’. Some cattle were even driven on from Crieff to London to be sold there.
After the railway reached Falkirk in the 1840’s, it took over as the main market for Scottish beef and Crieff’s role changed to one based on its spa and the development of tourism. To this day Crieff remains an important tourist destination and the focal point of a rich agricultural area.