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Art in Scotland
Samuel Bough


SAMUEL BOUGH, R.S.A.
Born, 1822; died, 19th November 1878.

Sam Bough, as he delighted to be called, although in every sense a Scottish artist, was by birth an Englishman, having been born in the legendary city of Carlisle, where the first two years of his working life were spent in the office of the town clerk. A strong liking and natural capability for art early induced him to adopt it as a profession, and with very little experience and no instruction he made his way to London, where the acquaintance of George Lance enabled him to pick up some knowledge from the artists with whom he was thus brought into contact. Always a Bohemian, he knocked about a good deal, and took to scene- painting, in which he was first employed at Manchester, from whence he moved to Glasgow, where he wrought at the Theatre Royal, painted interior decorations, drew illustrations for guidebooks, and whatever else of a kindred nature came in his way. After moving about in different places, he finally settled in Edinburgh in 1855, where he rapidly took a leading position, and was elected Associate of the Scottish Academy in the following year, and full Academician in 1875. He was a regular contributor to the Edinburgh exhibitions, and more especially in the earlier part of his career at the Royal Academy in London.

Dying so recently, his style and work are so well known to every frequenter of the now numerous loan and other exhibitions in Scotland that it is almost needless to refer to them. Between his clever Dumbarton Shipyard, painted in 1855, and his latest pictures, a long list might be enumerated of large and important works, any one of which would have made the reputation of an ordinary artist. In wealth of resource and facility of execution he is unequalled: his splendid picture of Borrowdale, a river running through a mountain valley, is teeming with atmosphere and motion, and the poetry born from acute observation of nature; his Frosty Morning at Winton Castle (the home of his friend the artistic and venerable late Lady Ruthven) has all the charm suggested by its title, and was one of the envied treasures of the Royal Academy exhibition, in which it occupied a prominent position; and his Volunteer Review, now happily acquired by the Scottish National Gallery, is a perfect tour de force in its way. In the latter picture, the vast multitude of people on the hillsides are shown gradually assuming definiteness as the nearer ground is approached, where parties are picnicking on the grass; a corps of artillery is grouped in the front near the centre of the picture, and magnificent masses of serried troops are wheeling on the low ground in the middle distance; farther off rises the picturesque Calton Hill, while the landscape is appropriately terminated by the huge castled rock of Edinburgh, completing, by a grandly painted sky with wind-blown clouds, a picture full of material, free of confusion, and sparkling with all the open-air feeling of a breezy summer day, full of life, light, and colour. His style of painting was massive and hasty, but seldom careless; sometimes his colour was apt to become cold, but many of his smaller works representative of sunsets at the fishing harbours on the east coast are warm and delicate. He had a thorough knowledge of atmospheric effect, and his works are generally pervaded by a strong feeling of daylight; and he was equally happy, perhaps more so, in his watercolour drawings. "The man's unshaken courage and great muscular power seem to have more directly found expression in this field. It was a sight to see him attack a sketch, peering boldly through his spectacles, and, with somewhat tremulous fingers, flooding the page with colour: for a moment it was an indescribable hurly-burly, and then chaos would become ordered, and you would see a speaking transcript; his method was an act of dashing conduct, like the capture of a fort in war. One of his sketches in particular, a night-piece on a headland, where the atmosphere of tempest, the darkness, and the mingled spray and rain, are conveyed with remarkable truth and force, was painted to hang near a Turner; and his answer to some words of praise, 'Yes, lad,' said he, 'I wasn't going to look like a fool beside the old man.'"

Sam was one of the best-known notabilities of Edinburgh. Burly and rough in his manners as well as clothes, he sometimes affected a rude and levelling manner, and often disregarded propriety in speaking to those who assumed consequential airs; yet withal, full of warm-heartedness, geniality, and good-humour. While openly sneering at all that was mean and bad, he was ever ready to do a good action, more especially by advice and otherwise, to aid a rising artist. He was a good violinist, sang a capital song, and was well read, more especially in the literature of the Queen Anne period. "It was delightful," says Mr R. L. Stevenson, "to hear him when he spoke of Carlisle, Cumberland, and John Peel, the famous hunter; or when he narrated his own experience - cobbling shoes beside his father, gipsying among the moors to sketch, working in the docks as a porter, or painting scenes and sometimes taking a part at local theatres. As we may say of books that they are readable, we may say of his talk that it was eminently hearable. He could broider romance into his narratives, and you were none the wiser; they had the grit and body of reality, the unity of a humorous masterpiece; and the talents of the novelist and the comedian were pressed together into the service of your entertainment." He was a most indefatigable worker: not only in his studio but in his home some bit of work was always handy to fill up an odd hour when he felt inclined—hence the great multitude of small sketches bearing his signature, which were still further increased within a year or two after his death by forged imitations, when they were eagerly sought after. He was buried in the Dean Cemetery, where a simple monument of grey granite with a medallion bust by Brodie marks his grave.


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