Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 32 Does anyone recognise the location depicted in 'Highland Scene'?

Highland Scene
Topic: Subject or sitter

Horatio McCulloch exhibited a painting at the RSA Annual Exhibition in 1834 (cat.4) titled 'Arran from Bute, effect of sunshine breaking through a rainy cloud'.

The subject matter would fit, if the background mountains can be identified to satisfactorily match the topography given in the title.

Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Discussion about the location was inconclusive. Research on the frame maker, Alexander Niven, indicates a possible date for it of 1856–1874, and potentially for the work itself.

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.


Jacinto Regalado,

Also, the picture may show a full moon rather than the sun.

Carol Bulloch,

Yes, there is foreshortening, but the best fit for the Arran glen and mountains in this picture are:
- Glen Sannox
- Suide Fhearghas - the mountain on the right. The ridge behind this mountain leads to Caisteal Abhail
- Cioch na h-Oighe (commonly known as The Bastion) – the mountain on the left. Just to the left of this mountain there is a bowl shape which fits Coire na Ciche (commonly known as The Devil’s Punchbowl)
The picture foreground would be somewhere on the very southern tip of Bute.

Osmund Bullock,

I tend to agree with Jacinto that this could well be a moonlit scene, a subject that McCulloch often exhibited. The cloud and rain seem to be clearing the disk completely - would an unmasked sun be painted like this? There is also the slightly yellow waterside object in the middle distance on the right, and its reflection in the water below - this looks like a bright light to me, which I doubt would be so evident in daylight. In fact I think it's a fire - there seems to be smoke rising from it. Actually I'm now having doubts about night vs day - we need to see some more McCulloch views in moonlight.

Osmund Bullock,

I may be going blind, but I'm afraid I see no building, Maria - do you mean what I read as a figure walking along the track to the right of the foreground tree?

The attached close-ups might help.

The first clearly shows a figure. The second shows a distinct disc in the sky. The artist's daylight scenes tend to show diffuse light behind clouds. The object on the far shore appears to be a house with orangey light (fire?) illuminating its roof and smoke rising from it.

I know the area well and even from the nearest point of Bute (Google Maps can't get you there), those mountains are quite distant. See this view from the end of Plan Road, Bute.

I’d say our view is taken across a loch, from the far side of which the hills rise straight up. Here’s the view across to Arran from Portencross on the mainland, showing the stretch of water between Bute (distant point behind the car park) and Arran. Goat Fell and other peaks aren’t right on the waterfront at Arran either.

However, Carol's point about foreshortening is important, and McCulloch’s can be extreme. While his view of Ben Lomond across Loch Lomond (The Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow) is closer to life, ‘On the Clyde’ is a highly embellished view (a picturesque fantasy) of Dumbarton Rock from a high point near Langbank.

Maria Castro,

Ah, yes, never mind. The close-ups do clearly show a figure, not a building.

Martin Hopkinson,

McCulloch must have worked from drawings - when he did this was he on board a boat? It would have been painted in the studio and memory must have been involved in the case of a view like this

Martin Hopkinson,

Are there any labels on the back? Of course the panel is small enough to take on board a boat and draw the landscape in outline

Louis Musgrove,

This view is findable- ish-- in photos on the internet. If one were on a bit of high ground inland on Bute and used a telephoto lens -- one would get roughly this forshortened type of image - as lots of people have done- ref\:- flickr- alamy etc --- just search for images of "Aran from Bute" --

Osmund Bullock,

It's helpful if you give links to specific examples, Louis - especially as your searching instructions spell 'Arran' wrong for the Scottish island!

I agree with Martin that we need to see what (if anything) is on the back. It actually says it's 'on board' (in the non-nautical sense), which might be wood or more likely one of the manufactured & prepared pressed-paper boards available by this period, such as millboard & academy board. If it's one of the latter (though the size, if accurate, seems non-standard when converted into inches), then there's a chance of a supplier's label...which in turn might be dateable.

Louis Musgrove,

Sorry Osmund, but my typing IS awfull.No secretary ! :-( . I did not want to give public links to people's private photos- but they are easy to find.

E Arts,

It is combination: the forground is from the location that the painter is painting, the mountain and the sky is from a location that the painter used to live in his childhood. The mixture of sunray and the moon depict day and night that reflect both landscape in the shadow of the sky.
The painter is a dreamer.

South Ayrshire Council's documentation shows only that ‘Highland Scene’ was purchased by Ayr Burgh in 1971. They will check the picture itself as soon as possible.

As Louis Musgrove commented, there are plausible photographs of the view, which with a lot of artistic licence could support the RSA's original conjecture. Whether it is sunshine or moonlight breaking through I am not sure - the lighting of the forground suggests it is daytime, thus supporting the possibility that it is indeed McCulloch's RSA 1834 exhibit titled 'Arran from Bute, effect of sunshine breaking through a rainy cloud'. So, possibly McCulloch, possibly Arran from Bute, possibly his 1834 exhibit, seem the best we can say..

Donald Livingstone,

Carol Bulloch was correct. The view presented by Arran, seeing directly into Glen Sannox, from Dunagoil Bay say, or anywhere on the south end of Bute, is stunning. It's so much closer than one is used to.

A painting by McCulloch 'View of Loch Fad, Isle of Bute, with Arran in the distance' shows how much he was prepared to exaggerate for picturesque effect.

As I set out above, 8 March 2021, the attribution and title are plausible.

I worry though how low the sun is in the sky considering the view is pretty much south or south-west, even if it's a Scottish winter.

I was at Glencallum Bay, quite near this viewpoint, only four or five weeks ago and unfortunately did not remember this discussion or photograph the view. Warm and sunny and Arran certainly not looking that clos!

Good. The activities of the framer Alexander Niven at that address will give us an indication of the date the painting was framed. A first search shows he was active there at least 1859-60. National Library of Scotland has digitised the PO Directories. I will look more thoroughly later.

It would be interesting to know whether the late Sheenah Smith examined the painting during her extensive research for the major McCulloch exhibition which she curated at Kelvingrove Art Galleries in 1988, but to which it does not appear to have been lent.

IF the work does turn out to be McCulloch's 1834 Scottish Academy exhibit as we first proposed, then that work appeared in the catalogue as "the Property of D C Rait, Esq." Whilst Alexander Fraser RSA in his 1872 monograph "Scottish landscape - The Life and Works of Horatio McCulloch" (Andrew Elliott, Edinburgh) says of it on p.12; "In 1834 he contributed to the Academy exhibition "Arran from Bute" an effect of sunshine breaking through the mist, with, fro the first time, the quotation from Milton he was so fond of repeating; 'Ye mists and exhalations that now rise
From hill or streaming lake, dusky or grey,
Till the sun paints your fleecy sides with gold,
In honour to the world's great Author rise -'

1834 also marks the year of McCulloch's election as an associate of the [soon to be Royal] Scottish Academy (and not 1835 as Fraser erroneously states).

Jacob Simon,

So, thanks to Andrew's very useful research indicating a possible date for the frame of circa 1856 to 1874, and potentially for the work itself, do we think that we should move away from the idea that our work could be McCulloch's 1834 Scottish Academy exhibit? And why do we think that it is by Horatio McCulloch? Is it really in his manner?

Earlier, Andrew tentatively posited (08/03/2021): "So, possibly McCulloch, possibly Arran from Bute, possibly his 1834 exhibit, seem the best we can say." How far does this stand up in the light of his research on the framemaker?

Martin Hopkinson,

The artist's name is written over the label on the back, but certainly not by him. The question is can the style match his work. Could it date from after his death in 1867? Can the skies be matached in his work?

Given that we have to close this soon, is there any more evidence to aupport my summary three yaers ago: "possibly McCulloch, possibly Arran from Bute, possibly his 1834 exhibit."