Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 30 Can you help to identify the artist and possible date of 'Cockenzie Harbour'?

Cockenzie Harbour
Topic: Artist

This picture was framed by Aitken Dott of Edinburgh who started in 1842. Small boats in the harbour have Leith registrations (LH), which were compulsory from 1843. It features coal waggons which were used at Cockenzie Harbour from 1833 to circa 1876, though much was diverted by rail when the North British Line opened nearby around 1846.

I am a member of the Waggonway Project, which is interested in this painting because it backs up some of the archaeology and research we have done around this harbour. Dr Claire Pannell, the Collections Officer of East Lothian Council Museum Service kindly allowed my colleague and me to view the painting where it is held in store at Haddington, not actually in John Muir House. We took photographs of the framing label on the back from Aitken Dott – any signature and date is likely obscured by the frame, but we did not remove the painting from the frame.

Haddington Town Council archives were checked for a record of the gift. The name of the councillor who presented it is known, but the artist was not mentioned.

Annie Rayner, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist could not be unidentified, but the picture has been dated 1843–c.1876.

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.


This is a puzzle that has already come my way and which I suggested be posted here, since all I could add was the 1843 start date for fishing-boat registry letters/numbers. The absence of any steam vessel (though they existed earlier) perhaps suggests its within 10 to 20 years of that. The small boat-shaped objects in a row on the beach are perhaps floating fish-keeps, towed by fishing boats to keep catch alive until landed. Otherwise I'm foxed.

Martin Hopkinson,

Have the exhibition catalogues of the RSA been checked?

Jacob Simon,

Please post the Aitken Dott photo and the name of the councillor who presented the picture.

RSA members/ associates only from McKay & Rinder:

William Marshall Brown (b.1863) exh. 'Cockenzie', 1902 (and a 'Fish Sale' and 'Fish market' there at other dates)

Edmund Thornton Crawford (1806-85) exh. 'Boat shore, Cockenzie', 1873

Titles of others at/near Cockenzie by Alexander Fraser and William Nicholson rule them out

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is by Alexander Fraser (1827-1899), it is probably an early work, as it seems less accomplished than his more mature work.

Whaley Turco,

A Good Cleaning wouldn't hurt.. Might find a signature then.

Jacob Simon,

The Aitken Dott & Son label is not earlier than 1880. I suspect they restored or sold the painting in the late 19c or early 20c. So not helpful.

Annie Rayner,

According to the brass plate on the front, the painting was presented by Robert Tulloch, Esq., in 1933. The Haddington Council minute of 22nd September 1933 reads “Provost Inglis thanks Mr Tulloch, Burgh Surveyor for the gift of a picture of the Old Harbour which has been placed in the Council Chambers.”

Marcie Doran,

Thank you, Annie. That makes sense. I had considered him because he and his wife lived at Seton Cottage, Cockenzie. He wasn't a City Councillor so I had dismissed him (but kept his family tree open). That family tree on Ancestry indicates that Robert Tulloch was born in Haddington on 21 September 1871 and passed away on 2 May 1956. The Scotlandspeople website indicates that he was 84 years old when he passed away. Robert was predeceased by his wife Barbara Tulloch (née Grieve) in 1942. They were the parents of three children.

Jacob Simon,

We are asked "Can you help to identify the artist and possible date of 'Cockenzie Harbour'?"

As to the date of the work, its feel and the sailing boats suggest to me a mid-century date. What'd be helpful would be a snap of the frame back and front, or at least front, to see if the frame style helps date the picture -- if original to the picture.

I'm guessing that the donor, Robert Tulloch, acquired the picture from Aitken Dott & Son, or at least had it restored by them. Dott's records by and large are not available.

Just 'doing the math' supposing 'early Fraser' might be a possibility on which I have no view.

If Tulloch was indeed born in September 1871 he was 79 when he died in May 1951, not 84. If he was was really 84 then born in c.1867.

Either one or two Frasers of 'Cockenzie Harbour' were sold at auction in 1911 (when he would have been either about 40 or 44) and 1916 (when about 45 or 49). He gave the picture to Haddington in 1933 when either about 62 or 66 -i.e. about retirement and himself wondering how long it would be perhaps..

That's a credible timeline for a professionally employed man of interest in the subject owing to local connection, though we don't yet know how long the connection was.

Marcie Doran,

I don't think there was a family connection to the artist. Robert’s father was a master mason and Barbara’s father was a general labourer. A family treasure would likely have stayed in the family.


Here are two additional notices about Alexander Fraser painting(s) with that title – from 1932 and 1935.


Could the artist be Alexander Webster Senior (1841–1913)? My composite is based on his 'Fraserburgh Harbour'. The masts seem very similar to the ones in 'Cockenzie Harbour'.

With regard to Martin's earlier query whether RSA Catalogues have been checked, we have now had a chance to do so; here's the details of possible options, being the works exhibited in the RSA Annual Exhibitions during the suggested time period for the painting.

A caveat of course is that the present work may never have been exhibited at the RSA.

The following list is also based on a search for "Cockenzie". Anything exhibited under a more generic title "Unloading the catch" "Boats in Harbour" "An east Coast Harbour," etc has not been possible to check.

ARCHIBALD, James; 1871 (669) Cockenzie harbour

BALLINGALL, Alexander; 1895 (558) Old harbour, Cockenzie

CRAWFORD, Edmund Thornton; 1873 (217) Boat Shore, Cockenzie

DURWARD, J Edmonston; 1872 (397)

EDMONSTON, Samuel; 1874 (42) Fisherfolk at Cockenzie

HOGG, Archibald William; 1893 (349) Cockenzie

IRVINE, Anna M Forbes; 1874 (849) Old Pier, Cockenzie

JACK, John; 1874 (351) At Cockenzie
1885 (Works in Watercolours and Sculptures by Living Artists Exhib) 748 Old Harbour, Cockenzie

LAING, William D; 1881 (404) On the Beach, Cockenzie

LAWRENCE, Charles; 1879 (1003) Cockenzie from the Old Jetty

LEWIS, Frederick Christian; 1861 (286) Cockenzie

LOGAN, Robert Francis; 1871 (911) Cockenzie harbour from the South-West
(1062) Cockenzie harbour from the North-East

MACRAE, G H; 1876 (843) Cockenzie - boat shore
1880 (877) Cockenzie harbour

MILLS, Edward; 1883 (242) A Summer day at Cockenzie
1885 (147) On the Shore, Cockenzie

PORTEOUS, William; 1880 (558) On the East Coast, Cockenzie

VEITCH, M Campbell; 1887 (846) An Old corner, Cockenzie

WINTOUR, William jnr; 1877 (827) At Cockenzie

Annie Rayner,

Jacob Simon asked for photographs of the frame to help in identification. Unfortunately, I only have the front frame showing in the detail of the nameplate, and the back of the frame showing in the detail of the framer’s label, both of which are attachments in my post above from Ist March at 1900 hours.

Jacob Simon,

Thanks to Annie for her helpful response. The main (outer) element of the frame could date to the second half of the 19th century. But the inner element, apparently some sort of fabric, is distinctly later, perhaps dating to when the picture was restored.

A quick look for works on Art UK, or otherwise online by artists on the RSA exhibitors list kindly provided above, does not suggest any very likely candidate to add to 'early Alexander Fraser'. The only one which gave me slight pause was E.T. Crawford but not for long. Some are just 'no shows' for name or images.

Other than a thorough physical check for any inscription under the frame edge, this is a case where perhaps only an old-fashioned photo-archive of hard-copy prints in boxes might help, if any Scottish institution has such, whether ordered by artist/date or place represented.

Without some other clue, it doesn't look as if we are going to get further online.

The Collections Officer thinks she may be able to see something in the extreme bottom left, but that it might be imagination and/or bad lighting. Unfortunately, on the back there are large staples which do not allow easy removal of the mounted canvas.

I fear this rests with them until they can extract the staples. As previous cases have shown, even if there's an apparently illegible squiggle, its worth posting back here for deciphment - of which we have had several successful cases. We have not found a likely enough suspect to pin even a possible attribution on and leaving open ends just lengthens the stream to no good purpose. Better to come back to it when if there is something definite to say, though its probably reasonable to suppose it is a local Scottish artist.

Marion, perhaps you could tell the collection that they don't have long to produce an image of the possible signature. If they still can't then we'd better close this as unresolved.

The connection with Alexander Fraser seems so far unsupported by any evidence. The work look a bit earlier than the 1870s to me, more like mid-century, but could be later if by an unsophisticated artist.

Given the timescale of Art Detective's closure, I would also be tempted to close this as unresolved.

Perhaps Marion could get in direct touch with them again and say 'last chance' if they are able to take it out of the frame and post images of the apparently hidden signature.

I have asked again, but as the collection said last April it is held in place by large staples, and they would need expert help to get those out safely. No harm in leaving this open a short while longer though.

As we learnt at the start of this discussion, there are features in the painting that give it a date range of 1843 - c.1876 (and that rough terminus should be included in its dating).

We also know there appears to be a signature, not yet accessible uner the frame edge. While the subject suggests the artist is likely to be Scottish, a considerable canvass of names has not produced anyone likely: 'unknown/unidentified' remains the current situation.

'More information' might usefully change as follows:

Two of the small boats shown in the painting have LH registration letters (for Leith). It can therefore be dated to after 1843, when port registration of small working craft (mainly fishing boats) became obligatory, and about 1876 , which saw the end of wagonway coal trucks, of the type also shown, elivring to the harbour. The painting appears to have a signature under the frame edge but not readable until the canvas can be taken out for examination.'

Perhaps this shoulld now formally wind up on that basis.