The Artists
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon



Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford

Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes

The Artists

The art of forgery

A now celebrated Dumfriesshire artist was once convicted of applying his talent to the forging of banknotes. Little is known of the early life of Thomas Watling (born 1762) except that his parents died when he was an infant and that he was reared by an aunt in Dumfries. As a young man, he was sufficiently established as an artist in the town to be offering instruction at 'Watling's Academy'. Wider recognition came to him in the worst possible way, at the high court in Edinburgh in 1789 when he was found guilty of making replicas of Bank of Scotland notes. In the court papers he was described as 'sometime painter or limner in the Town of Dumfries, at present prisoner in the Tolbooth of Dumfries'. Fearing the death penalty, Watling took pre-emptive action by successfully petitioning for punishment by transportation. He was sentenced to fourteen years at Botany Bay in New South Wales. When the ship taking him and over four hundred other convicts to Australia called in at the Cape of Good Hope, Watling escaped - 'your loved Watling is at liberty!' he wrote to his aunt - but his rejoicing was short-lived: he was re-captured.

After he eventually arrived at the Sydney Cove penal colony in 1792, Watling's skills were employed by British officials who were keen to have a pictorial record of both the Aboriginal population and the local flora and fauna. A large collection of these sketches is now held by the Natural History Museum in London. In 1988 the Australian bicentennial was marked at the British Museum by a exhibition of Watling's work.

In 1794 his Letters from an Exile at Botany-Bay to his Aunt in Dumfries was published anonymously. He gives his first impressions of the countryside, describes the beginnings of Sydney ('about 1/3 part as large as Dumfries') and longs for news from home:

When you write to me, be so kind as to inform me of every little incident in the place; for the most trivial will be entertaining and dear to me. I have seen almost the whole of the London newspapers down to the last six months; but as they do not descend to occurrences done in that neighbourhood where my infant and happier years were passed, their intelligence is flat and insipid. Your new bridge [the Buccleuch Bridge] and theatre [Theatre Royal] I have already heard of.

Watling did not have to serve the full fourteen-year term. Receiving a pardon, he ended up in Calcutta, earning a meagre living as a painter of miniatures. He returned to Dumfries, but soon the authorities were after him again for alleged banknote forgery. This time, though, the verdict was 'not proven'.

His last known place of residence was London. By then he was destitute (despite some help from members of the Royal Academy) and suffering from cancer. The year of his death has never been established. Since leaving New South Wales he had been accompanied by a son who had been born there; the mother is presumed to have been a fellow convict.

Royal favourite

When Queen Victoria wanted a pictorial record of her Golden Jubilee service at Westminster Abbey in 1887, she turned to the Dumfriesshire artist William Ewart Lockhart (1846-1900). It was the crowning achievement for a man whose early life had been stigmatised by his illegitimacy.

Lockhart was born at Eaglesfield to Ann Lockhart, a servant employed at Scotsbrig, a farm near Middlebie then occupied by the family of Thomas Carlyle. His middle name came from his father Thomas Ewart, a farmworker whose marriage to another woman may already have taken place by the time of William's birth.

Lockhart was brought up by his maternal grandparents. When he was about five or six the family moved to Annan, where his grandfather had taken up a gardening job. At school in Annan his artistic ability became apparent and, with the help of some benefactors, he was able from the age of fourteen to begin training as an artist at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh, run under the auspices of the Royal Scottish Academy. Within a year he had had two pictures accepted for the RSA summer exhibition.

Lockhart's health was always fragile. At the age of seventeen tuberculosis was diagnosed and he was advised to seek out a better climate. With financial support from the RSA, he spent a year in Australia, returning to Annan much improved and eager to do more travelling. For most of the rest of his life he wintered abroad. He developed a particular fondness for Spain, whose literature provided him with subject-matter, as in such pictures as The Cid, for which a Dundee businessman paid the then enormous sum of £2000. He also painted in Majorca and Italy. The legends and literature of his homeland similarly fed his imagination: The Bride of Lammermoor, Cardinal Beaton, The Crowning of Mary Queen of Scots and The Funeral of Burns are among his best-known Scottish works.

In 1869 he married Mary, niece of one of his tutors. She was already pregnant. They would eventually produce six children and, thanks to Lockhart's popularity with wealthy clients, the family enjoyed a high standard of living. They lived at various addresses in the New Town of Edinburgh before finally settling in a handsome villa in salubrious Morningside.

The lure of London eventually proved irresistible. They moved south in 1884. The Edinburgh house was kept on, however, and Lockhart regularly returned to the city where since 1878 he had been made a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy. It was during one of his return visits, for the 1886 International Exhibition which featured a number of his Spanish pictures, that he had the meeting with Queen Victoria that led to his big Golden Jubilee commission.

Lockhart spent three years on The Golden Jubilee Service in Westminster Abbey. It was a vast canvas containing 278 individual portraits. There was no time to execute any of these on the day of the ceremony, when all he could do was to make rapid sketches of the scene in general:

I was allowed to make a sort of studio in one of the doorways which open onto the altar. A window was made for me at the top of the door, through which I obtained a splendid view of the Abbey, and yet I remained unseen...As the crowd took their places I made hasty records of the masses of colour. I made hundreds of shorthand notes, not attempting for a moment to secure portraits, which would have been impossible, but getting positions and groupings.

The hard work started afterwards. Sittings had to be arranged for all the individual portraits, either for the artist himself or for a photographer. Samples of the fabrics worn on the day had to be obtained. The Palace was even asked to send to Lockhart's studio the uniform that the Prince of Wales had used for the occasion. Detail after detail had to be researched: hundreds of letters were exchanged in the uncompromising pursuit of pictorial exactitude.

For Lockhart the project was a poisoned chalice and did no good for his perpetually precarious state of health. The finished work, of which the Queen approved, did increase Lockhart's social standing in the capital and portrait commissions from the mighty and the moneyed flowed in. But in the end Lockhart felt bitterly disappointed: the knighthood which he had expected for his herculean efforts never materialised. Might the Palace officials have been never quite able to overlook his origins as a wee bastard from Annandale?

Depression led to Lockhart's admission to a mental hospital, where he died of pneumonia nine days short of his 54th birthday. For his very last work he had returned in his mind to the county of his birth but, sadly, Wedding at Gretna Green was never finished.

Since 1998 there has been a re-awakening of interest in Lockhart. By Royal Command, a biography and catalogue by Annan resident Margery A Wilkins, was published to coincide with an exhibition of his work held in the town. The centenary of his death was marked by the placing of a plaque on his childhood home in what is now Bruce Street.

Wright Up Your Street

Nineteenth-century Annan produced another fine artist in George Wright (1851-1916), who, unlike Lockhart, remained rooted in his home town. Wright did not have the opportunity of a formal training. After leaving Annan Public School, he was apprenticed to a decorator and sign-writer, but an abundance of natural talent enabled him to progress from painting houses to painting pictures. His work was shown at the Royal Scottish Academy and when that institution put on a Jubilee exhibition in Manchester in 1897 Wright was represented. He had already attracted wider attention through the extensive reproduction of his depiction of an Annan otter hunt.

Travel to Italy, Turkey and Norway extended his subject-matter but his central interest was always the landscape of Dumfriesshire. An arm injury limited his later productivity and he ended his career as a highly regarded art master at Annan Academy. A retrospective show in 2006 was jauntily entitled 'Wright Up Your Street'.

'Glasgow Boy' in Moniaive

James Paterson (1854-1932), one of the twenty or so west-of-Scotland Impressionist/Post-Impressionist artists known collectively as the 'Glasgow Boys', lived and painted for a couple of decades in Moniaive. He came from a prosperous family in Glasgow, where his father was a cotton manufacturer. To placate his parents Paterson also went into business at first but all his spare time was spent drawing and painting. He had tuition at Glasgow School of Art but only in the early part of the morning before going to the office. Finally, in 1876, his father relented and allowed him to go to Paris for further instruction.

Paterson first visited Moniaive in 1879. After his marriage in 1884 he settled there in a cottage which was a wedding present from his parents. To accommodate his family and create a studio he had the property extended, in a distinctively English 'Arts and Crafts' style, by the distinguished Glasgow architect J J Burnet. The modest cottage was transformed into Kilneiss House.

Paterson justified leaving the city and putting down roots in a particular place by reasoning that 'to paint landscape, and find out for oneself its possibilities, it were well not to flirt with a new neighbour each recurring summer, but to marry metaphysically some well-chosen space, seeking not the obvious picturesque, but allowing nature's features gradually to find their way to the heart.'

A landscapist more than a portraitist, he had learned from the French the importance of painting en plein air. So dedicated was he to this approach that he built next to the Craigdarroch Water a studio which he could use in winter. He was also an adept amateur photographer and his images were useful supplements to his direct observations.

For family and probably also for career reasons Paterson moved to Edinburgh in 1897 but he kept his connection with Moniaive for almost another decade, returning there to paint in the summer. In the capital he rose steadily within the art establishment, becoming a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1910 and its president in 1922.

His third son, Hamish Paterson (1890-1955), though initially intent on becoming an architect, seemed destined ultimately to follow his father into the artistic trade: he was given the middle name Constable. He developed into a lively portraitist as well as landscapist. An idyllic boyhood in Moniaive had given him a promising start in life but his adulthood was darkened by his experiences of the First World War. He was wounded in both of his wrists and at one point he thought that he would never again be able to paint. The physical injuries did heal but he was left with severe mental scars and for the rest of his life remained prone to bouts of depression which reduced his output. In search of contentment he returned to live in Moniaive in 1953 but he died there just two years later.

The Paterson connection with Moniaive used to be commemorated by a dedicated museum in the village. This was the initiative of Hamish's niece and James's grand-daughter Anne Paterson Wallace, an artist herself. The museum closed in 2003, its archive being transferred to the library of Glasgow University.

Art and domesticity

In the first half of the twentieth century no artist depicted the landscapes and townscapes of Dumfriesshire with a defter and more exquisite freshness than Chris J Fergusson (1876-1957). Thanks to a series of posthumous retrospectives promoted by her grandson W J C Henderson, the full extent of her achievement is now more widely appreciated. She herself might have enjoyed more tangible success during her lifetime had she not been obliged by the values of the time to place the calling of an artist below the duties of a wife and a mother.

Christian Jane Stark was the daughter of a well-to-do Dumfries solicitor. At first it was foreign languages in which she excelled at Dumfries Academy, her interest in drawing and painting being at that stage more of a private sideline. Travelling through Normandy and Brittany after leaving school seems to have awakened a surer sense of vocation. On her return she attended art classes in London and then enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art. There she came under the influence of its dynamic director Fra Newbery and formed lasting friendships with the likes of Jessie M King, a future luminary of the Kirkcudbright artists' colony.

The Arts and Crafts movement was then in the ascendancy at the GSA and so, in the fashion of the time, Chris produced not only paintings but also decorative items such as tapestry and jewellery. The Suffragette movement was also in full spate at this time and Chris became an active supporter. After graduating she earned a living by teaching. She tutored at her old college and had spells as art mistress at Kirkcudbright Academy in 1905-6 and at the Glasgow High School for Girls in 1907-8.

But the life of the independent career woman was about to end. In 1903 she had become secretly engaged to David Fergusson, a son of the manse from Roxburghshire. David, having graduated from Glasgow University, was establishing himself as a lawyer in Dumfries. By 1908 he was sufficiently secure financially for the two of them to get married. Their home at Rotchell Road in Maxwelltown on the west bank of the Nith was built in the Art Nouveau style and their furniture included pieces designed by E A Taylor, husband of Jessie M King. The ambience was markedly aesthetic but the silence of the studio was soon overtaken by the cries of babies. The first of three children was born in 1910. Whenever she did get an opportunity to paint, the signature was tellingly different: 'C J Stark' was now 'Chris J Fergusson', dutiful consort of a respectable Dumfries solicitor.

It was not until the '20s and '30s, with the children becoming less dependent, that she began once again to find more time for her art. Family holidays - to the East Neuk of Fife and to the Isle of Whithorn in Wigtownshire, homeland of her mother - were a great stimulus. So too, later on, were painting expeditions to the Berwickshire coast around St Abbs and Eyemouth, a creative pleasure she was able to share with her eldest daughter Nan and fiancé James Henderson, both by now graduates of the Edinburgh College of Art.

The 'secret' of Chris's style at this time was explained in an article published in the Scottish Field: 'she draws her atmosphere from the free air, her sunshine from the open sky, and with glorious directness transfers them to paper or canvas.' Her work always found a welcome on the walls of the Royal Scottish Academy, the Society of Scottish Artists and the Royal Glasgow Institute. She was also an active member, from 1925, of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, an exhibiting organisation set up to compensate for the male dominance of the profession. Locally, she was one of the founding members in 1922 of the Dumfries and Galloway Fine Art Society (husband David was its first secretary and treasurer).

Chris survived well into old age but her later years were tinged with sadness and loneliness. Her husband died suddenly in 1941 and her only son, John, was killed in combat towards the end of the Second World War. In 1952 she organised her own retrospective in Dumfries, with 116 works on display. It was the first one-woman show she had been able to have for a quarter of a century. Her next would be the memorial exhibition held at the town's Gracefield Art Centre five months after her death from a stroke in 1957.

Nan Fergusson (Mrs James Henderson) inherited her mother's talent and love of Dumfries and Galloway. Though she went to live in Edinburgh, where she taught at George Watson's Ladies College, she returned time and again to paint the landscape of her childhood until her own death in 1984. She had a spell as president of the Scottish Society of Women Artists.

In the light of the current popularity of Art Nouveau and the staggering prices now paid for authentic examples, it is interesting to note that after Chris's death the house's fixtures and fittings in this style were ripped out and disposed of by the new owner on the grounds of their being excessively old-fashioned!

Presidential painter

Dumfriesshire can claim to have nurtured a distinguished president of the Royal Scottish Academy, though only partially, for Robin Philipson (1916-1992) was born at Broughton in Furness in the south of the English Lake District and did not move to the county until he was fourteen when his railwayman father was transferred to Gretna.

Philipson completed his schooling at Dumfries Academy before entering Edinburgh College of Art in 1936. An important early influence on him was one of his college tutors, the Kirkcudbrightshire artist John Maxwell.

After war service Philipson returned to the college as a tutor and became its Head of Drawing and Painting. He was elected president of the Academy in 1973 and remained in post until his death. His knighthood came in 1976.

Philipson's style was romantic, colourist and expressionist, and his range of techniques was so dazzling that, according to the critic Cordelia Oliver, 'some felt that he was the painterly equivalent of a virtuoso vocalist so in love with the sound of his own voice that he had temporarily forgotten the subject of his song.'

Underneath the arches

In 1985 Dumfriesshire became the base, both personal and professional, for the internationally acclaimed English environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy (born 1956). Having grown up in Yorkshire, studied in Bradford and Preston, and lived in Lancashire and Cumbria, why Dumfriesshire? 'I had no money and it was cheap.' [no longer]. He moved at first to Langholm but settled within a year in Penpont, where the unusual nature of his work soon turned him into the village's greatest living curiosity.

'Land Art' is the term commonly applied to his type of creation. He works most frequently out of doors, his material whatever attracts his interest in the shapes, textures and colours of the natural world around him. These elements are organised into striking arrangements that interact with light, wind, rain and temperature.

An American critic put it well: 'On a typical autumn day, Andy Goldsworthy can be found in the woods near his home., maybe cloaking a fallen tree branch with a tapestry of yellow and brown elm leaves, or, in a rainstorm, lying on a rock until the dry outline of his body materializes as a pale shadow on the moist surface. Come winter, he might be soldering icicles into glittering loops or star bursts with his bare fingers.'

By definition 'sculptures' of this kind are ephemeral, the only permanent record of them being the photographs Goldsworthy takes of them. There is no shortage of explanation from the artist himself. Over the years there has been a steady output of coffee-table books with terse titles like Stone (1994), Wood (1996) and Time (2000).

In the 1990s Goldsworthy first manifested what became an obsession with the shape of an arch - not as part of a building, just a free-standing structure composed of Dumfriesshire stone blocks. Arches began as a journey southwards from his adopted home:

I will make an arch in Scotland from Locharbriggs red sandstone. It will be erected in a sheepfold on the Lowther Hills near to where I live, after which it will follow a drove route from Scotland through Cumbria and into Lancashire or Yorkshire.
The arch will stay overnight at folds along or close by the drove route. It will be erected and photographed at each site before being dismantled and taken to the next.Several virtually derelict wooden folds will be rebuilt in stone, continuing what I see as a tradition of first drawing a fold with rail, fence or posts before it is made in stone. The arch will, wherever possible, leave behind it a trail of revived, working folds, a trail of goodwill.

The arches have now come home in the form of a more durable installation at Cairnhead about six miles north-west of Moniaive. This project is called Striding Arches. There are four of them. Three, each always visible from the other two, are set at high points overlooking the glen: Bail Hill, Benbrack and Colt Hill. The fourth, lower down, 'strides' through the window of a redundant, but specially renovated, byre [cow shed]. According to the Scottish Arts Council, which directed substantial National Lottery funding into its creation, the purpose of Striding Arches is 'to celebrate and interpret Dumfries and Galloway's unique landscape'.

Goldsworthy's first contact with Locharbriggs quarry on the outskirts of Dumfries* was in 1991 when he arrived unexpectedly and asked for a block of sandstone. He returned for more. 'I had no idea what he was doing with them,' the manager Eric Sawden said. 'He kept coming in and getting bits and pieces and he always asked for me.' The relationship between artist and quarry manager was fruitful: Sawden left the quarry to become Goldsworthy's full-time right-hand man.

Only determined walkers will see Striding Arches in its remote location. Much more accessible is another local Goldsworthy structure: his sandstone millennium cairn overlooking the eastern approach road into Penpont.

In a newspaper interview Goldsworthy confessed to having had qualms about the cairn scheme for fear of engendering so close to home the kind of hostility he was used to at other locations: 'I kept thinking "Andy, do not make it there; your kids have to pass it every day in the school bus; they are going to have to suffer this sculpture for the rest of their lives, let alone me."'


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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