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Art in Scotland
Horatio MacCulloch


HORATIO MACCULLOCH, R.S.A.
Born, 1805; died, 24th June 1867.

The life of this very distinguished artist is an example of the strong poetic feeling and love of nature, combined with a talent for art, which is often developed under apparently the most adverse conditions. His father was styled a manufacturer in Glasgow, but more probably was only a weaver, and he named his son after the great Admiral. While serving his apprenticeship as a house-painter, he obtained lessons from John Knox, a painter of some ability in Glasgow, who added to his means of living by teaching drawing and painting. Daniel Macnee, who was at the same time attending Knox's class, strongly urged MacCulloch to follow art, and afterwards remained his fast friend throughout his life. In Glasgow he tried his prentice hand on subjects by the banks of the rivers Kelvin and Cart, which were at that time streams of unpolluted pastoral beauty. About 1825 he found employment in Edinburgh, where he remained a couple of years, colouring the plates for Selby's 'Ornithology' and Lizars's 'Anatomy,' besides further improving himself in art. He returned to Glasgow, and after further studious application, began to exhibit at the first exhibition of the Dilettanti Society in the Argyle Arcade, in 1828. Besides contributing to the succeeding exhibitions of that Society, he sent to those of the Scottish Academy, for the first time in 1829, after which he had so far made his mark as to secure his election as an Associate in 1834, and full Academician four years later.

His principal picture prior to this date was a View in Cadzow Park, near Hamilton. While he was at Hamilton, Macnish, the author of the 'Anatomy of Drunkenness,' was also residing there, and the two had many a ramble among the grand old oaks in the forest. It was about the time of the O'Connell furor in Scotland, and they took it into their heads to pass themselves off as sons of the Liberator. In this character they were sumptuously entertained by some of the well-to-do Radicals of the district, one of whom, on pointing them out on the street to a friend on the following day, was informed that the one was "a penter body frae Glasgow," and the other "that daft callant Macnish." Another of his pranks consisted in riding an elephant, borrowed from a menagerie, through the streets of Hamilton by moonlight.

To the Royal Academy of London in 1843 he sent the Old Bridge over the Avon, and a Scene in Cadzow Forest. In 1852, at the same exhibition, attention was attracted by a Drove Road, and Loch Coruiskin—the latter full of gloomy poetic feeling; although, speaking generally, his works were little known or appreciated in London. True to the instincts of a Scotchman, he found his subjects entirely in his native country—the lakes and barren deer-forests of the North and Western Highlands, and the rivers of the Lowlands, furnishing abundant material for his brush, giving an impetus to this branch of the art in Scotland of the greatest importance to his successors, such as Peter Graham and MacWhirter. A lengthy catalogue might be made of the beautiful and important works which he executed : his Lowland River, Loch Maree, Dream of the Highlands, and Loch Achray, through the medium of good engravings, are familiar to all Scotchmen. His magnificent Kilchurn Castle (1854) has been equally splendidly engraved. Among his other works may be mentioned a Highland Stronghold (1849); the very noble picture of the Lime- Kilns, and a Quiet River (1850); Sun Rising through the Mist, and Sundown on Loch Achray (1864); and Knock Castle (1855). His very grand Highland Deer-Forest (186), which was purchased by the Glasgow Art Union, was exhibited in London, where the 'Times' critic spoke of it as being equal to the work of the great Turner. He died in consequence of an attack of paralysis—the third—after lying a day and a half unconscious, and wrought up till the very last, the latest picture on which he was engaged being a small Moonlight, exhibited unfinished at the Academy in the following year.

A man of simple habits, extensive reading, varied information, and great amiability, he justly deserved the respect which he enjoyed from all with whom he associated. Among his many friends was John Wilson (Christopher North), who in a public speech paid the most eloquent tribute ever uttered to the genius and merits of MacCulloch. There had been a long-standing agreement between the two, that the artist would paint a picture of Elleray, Wilson's beautiful residence on Lake Windermere. Misfortune, however, overtook the Professor before the long- deferred and promised picture was commenced, which of course necessitated a visit to the spot; and one day Wilson broke in excitedly on the artist, exclaiming with glistening eye and husky voice, "MacCulloch, I've sold Elleray!"

His works, thanks to the admirable engravings of many of them by the late William Forrest, are probably more popular in Scotland than those of any other landscape-painter. His style was vigorous, robust, and refined, conveying to the spectator a grand impression of nature in all its phases. His moonlights, especially that of the Deer-Forest, are full of fine poetic feeling, and probably no artist has so truly rendered the character of Scottish scenery as exhibited in the broad expanse of lake, and crag after crag of mountain swathed in mist, rising beyond re mains of old Highland fortresses. He was a true impressionist of the school of nature, faithful without being literally topographical, and never looked at nature through other people's spectacles. The geology of his mountains, and the minor distinctions of the foliage of his trees, may sometimes not give entire satisfaction to scientists; but he cannot be said to have ever sinned against or taken undue liberties in the interpretation of the scenes which he professed to have represented. He may be said to have taken up the art where Nasmyth and Thomson of Duddingston left off, but, unlike either of these in one respect, planted his easel in the open air, and made nature his studio. As in the case of nearly every Scottish painter of his period, we must make allowance for the change which his pictures have undergone owing to the too liberal use of asphaltum. Those who knew his works when they were in their pristine state, can recall the silvery tone which has now become embrowned; but in spite of this change, his great pictures still retain their prestige as noble works of art.

MacCulloch was essentially an oil-painter. Nature for him was too substantial for expression by washes of thin pigments, and in consequence his water-colour pictures, which are not very numerous, are far below the level of his works in oil. He may be said to stand in the same relation to landscape-painting in Scotland which Raeburn does in portraiture, and Wilkie in domestic art.

In the year x868, an exhibition of over ninety of his pictures and sketches was opened in Edinburgh by Mr William Clark, his then sole surviving trustee, as well as one of his oldest and most intimate friends; and his biography has been published, written by his fellow-artist and associate Mr Alexander Fraser, R.S.A. A monument has been erected over his grave in Warriston Cemetery, from the design of the late Mr James Drummond, R.S.A. It is in the form of a richly decorated Celtic cross; one side of the pyramidal base contains a palette and brushes, adorned with a laurel wreath, and an arched panel on the other side contains a bas-relief of his favourite dogs.


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