Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 31 Can anyone identify this location from the castle?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Is this a view of Fast, Tantallon or another castle?

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The location could not be identified.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Melita Moule,

From my son, head of history at Marlborough Coloege and knowledgable about castles:
“ I think it's imaginary.
The architecture is wrong for Tantallon.
The castle itself looks a little more like Norham, which was a popular subject for romantics eg Turner. But that’s not on the coast. It seems to have a Norman keep; cf Bamburgh or Scarborough, but though they're on the coast the cliffs are very different.
Dunnottar Castle south of Aberdeen has similar cliff scenery and a big rectilinear keep like this - and the painting's in Aberdeen, for what that's worth: but the architecture looks different. I think it's a Norham-ish fantasy in a Tantallon/Dunottar setting. Would help to know where the artist liked to paint.”

Martin Hopkinson,

McCulloch was a Glasgow painter, who did not venture as far as the south coast of England, but I wonder if there is a castle on the west coast of Scotland which fits the bill. It is certainly possible that it is an invention, although usually his paintings have a factual base of some sort.

Adam Burck,

From the profile of the cliff head alone, it is not an accurate depiction of Fast or Tantallon; Tantallon's cliff descends smoothly, without a bump. From the clothing of the staffage, I wonder if those are not Scots, but rather middle-easterners. It may be out of character for this painter, and it's hard to speculate, but could this be an Orientalist painting?

Jacinto Regalado,

It would have to be a very loose derivation of Culzean Castle, as it is clearly not accurate.

Jacob Simon,


This discussion is about a small signed panel painting, “Seascape with a Castle and Figures”, by Horatio McCulloch (1805-67) in the collection at Aberdeen. A date of 1850 is given but is not part of the signature. There were eight contributions in the first three days of the discussion in May 2021 and then silence.

An inspection of the 70 works by this artist on Art UK is revealing. McCulloch’s subject matter is almost universally Scottish. Castles loom large as does romantic scenery with striking mountains. Some works are clearly related to actual views even if romanticised. But others, generally lacking a topographical title, appear more visionary and imaginary.

Our work appears to be the smallest and most sketchy among the seventy. It is one of the few on panel. The appearance and labelling of mid-19th century panels can be quite revealing. So it would be good to see an image of the reverse.

I am not a McCulloch expert but we should be seeking to identify that our atypical work does indeed sit comfortably within the artist’s oeuvre.

If indeed this is one of McCulloch’s visionary romantic landscapes, it need not depict a particular castle. If so then the answer to the discussion question above could be “NO”.

The way forward if we are not closing the discussion? I think realistic attempts to identify this visionary castle are probably at an end. What could be done is to check the extensive literature on the artist and perhaps consult an authority. Is there someone in a position to do this? And examine the painting physically by seeing a photo of the reverse and ideally also of the frame. Is this something Aberdeen could provide?

Martin Hopkinson,

This is clearly inspired by Turner - not like either McCulloch's earliest works, not like his most familiar grand paintings. My impression is that Jacob is right in thinking that the subject is visionary
Only a close study of the artist's signatures could help dating this or even come to the conclusion that the painting's signature was added later. Is it really indeed by McCulloch?

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums,

Dear all,

Thank you very much for your enquiries. All of you have been incredibly helpful. I am afraid that we do not have any details about the castle in this painting and whether it is a view of Fast, Tantallon or not. The painting itself is very small (oil on panel - Frame: Height: 25.2 cm, Width: 30.7 cm). According to our provenance record, the painting was presented to the artist to a man named Charles Black.

Dunnottar Castle looks more ruinous to me than the castle appeared in this painting and perhaps, the artist had taken an artistic licence and created something out of his imagination. I can see the influence of Turner that Martin mentioned especially the evocative depiction of sky (it looks like the afterglow at twilight).

Martin Hopkinson, I will take a detailed image of the artist’s signature appeared on the left hand side of the panel and I will share it with you if it is helpful.

In the meantime, thank you so much for all your time, interest and contribution.

With best wishes,

Griffin Coe

(Art Curator - Aberdeen Archives, Art Gallery and Museums)

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums,

PS. I'm sorry for the typo in my first paragraph and this is just to clarify that the painting was presented to a man named Charles Black by the artist.

Martin Hopkinson,

The only recent publication that I know of on the artist is Sheenah Smith's 1988 Glasgow Museum exhibition catalogue Horatio Mcculloch 1805 - 1867. However, it is over 25 years since I left Glasgow, and there may well have been significant articles on him in journals.
I do not think that the 1988 exhibition included a comparable painting - but my memory of that show may be fading.

Martin Hopkinson,

one might find drawings and watercolours by McCulloch in public and private collections that are comparable
The two in the Hunterian are in a different style - this is true of those in the National Gallery of Scotland

Martin Hopkinson,

none of the works on line in Glasgow Museums are comparable

Jacinto Regalado,

While most of McCulloch's works do not look this Turneresque, he may have painted in this vein on occasion, especially in oil studies. See

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums,

Dear all,

Thank you so much for your further information and comments which are fascinating and very insightful. They are very much appreciated.

As requested, I enclose the detailed image of the artist's signature as well as the images of the front and back of the frame for your visual reference. The painting is also glazed

I hope you find them useful.

FYI - Marion Richards, Martin Hopkinson, Jacob Simon

With kind regards,

Griffin Coe

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Jacob Simon,

Thanks to Griffin.

The frame is clearly original. Its elaboration indicating a finished work intended for wider consumption rather than some sketch left in the studio.

I suspect that the signature is OK but I'm not clear where the 1850 date assigned to this work springs from.

Martin Hopkinson,

The signature is rather large in relation to the size of the picture - but possibly he was not used to signing small works?

Martin Hopkinson,

Brodie Castle's 'Coastal landscape with a castle' has a signature which is much less obtrusive. This dated work provides stylistic comparison . Was the signature was added by somebody else?
The Brodie Castle painting is twice the size.

Martin Hopkinson,

If this painting was intentionally a homage to Turner , 1851 might be a more likely date than 1850

It seems unlikey that a convincing identification will arrive in time. It may be moree likely that it is an idealised fantasy or a compositional sketch, rather than a topographical record of an actual castle.