Landseer – exhibition of rare works comes to Grantown Museum

A dark stag stands to the left of the picture looking towards a deep valley with mountains in the distance

New exhibition coming to Grantown Museum of paintings by Sir Edwin Landseer aims to explore the Victorian creation of the Highlands as a site of romance and adventure – a fantasy that endures to this day.

Two hundred years ago, Edwin Landseer followed his wealthy patrons from the upper-class drawing rooms of London to spend his summers in the wilderness of the Cairngorms. The drama and mystery of the landscape would have a profound effect on the artist and his work, and he in turn would do much to popularise a romantic vision of the Highlands as an exotic northern wilderness.

Landseer’s obsession and fascination with the Cairngorms inspired the creation of a new visual identity for the Highlands during a time of great cultural and societal change. Opening this May, Landseer – A Highland Romance at Grantown Museum brings together rarely seen works by the artist to explore how our sense of Highland culture has been shaped by his enduring imagery.

The exhibition includes paintings from the Royal Collection, Woburn Abbey and The University of Dundee, as well as works on paper from private collections, and photographs from the museum’s own collection. The loans are supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

Dan Cottam, manager of Grantown Museum said, ‘It will be a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with an incredibly talented artist, a household name in his day, whose position in society meant he played a hand in shaping the way people see the Highlands and Highlanders to this day. We are giving today’s Highlanders a chance to see some of Landseer’s original paintings and sketches which are rarely seen in public and tell the story of the land that inspired him and his relationships with the influential people who shared his passions in and of the Cairngorms. We are most excited to bring The Highlander and The Highland Lassie from the Royal Collection back to the Highlands – two works created by the artist at the pinnacle of his career.’

19thC engraving of ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ © Grantown Museum

Landseer‘s (1802 – 1873) personal and professional life was irrevocably changed when he met the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Pioneers in the worlds of science and the arts, this trailblazing pair were instrumental in shaping Landseer’s rise to the top of the art world. Their patronage, influence and affection during the summers they shared in the Cairngorms would see Landseer inspired by a new landscape and way of life.

A love for the Highlands was famously shared by another couple – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Landseer’s depictions appealed to the Royal couple’s ideal of a simple way of living, away from the stifling city and the confines of society life. Their new Highland residence, Balmoral, was within riding distance of the tiny enclave of rustic cottages at Glen Feshie that the Duchess had taken for pleasure.

With royal patronage and influence in high society, Landseer’s fame grew and prints of his work would soon be hanging in the parlours of the Victorian middle classes. His images, including the much-loved Monarch of the Glen, are popular to this day.

Landseer – A Highland Romance will look at the artist’s relationship with the Cairngorms and with his influential patrons, as well as the role that Victorian celebrity played in creating an artificially romantic notion of the Highlands and of the people who lived there.

The paintings on display demonstrate Landseer’s brilliance in the use of narrative and mythology to appeal to Victorian sensibilities, while his lesser known personal collection of landscape sketches illustrate how he came to understand and use the unique Highland environment in his larger works.

Long stays in fashionable shooting estates provided the perfect subject matter to exploit Landseer’s talent for animal painting and portraiture. His many unapologetic and often graphic depictions of ‘the stalk’ helped to cement a growing passion for field sports that has been tremendously influential on the economy, environment and social structure of the Highlands.

This exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to explore the realities and myths of Highland identities, the interaction of celebrity and art, and the changes in land use in the 19th century that continue to affect this precious landscape today.

Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “We are pleased that the Weston Loan Programme is supporting the display of these paintings at Granton-on-Spey’s community museum. Our programme is all about helping museums tell compelling stories through significant loans, and this is a perfect opportunity to encounter Landseer’s work amid the landscape that so inspired him.”

Exhibition Details

Landseer – A Highland Romance, 13th May until 30th September 2023 at Grantown Museum, Grantown-on-Spey PH263HH

Museum admission: £4 (free for children & members)

For more information or images please contact: Dan Cottam, Museum manager, Grantown Museum: