Completed Continental European before 1800, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 22 Further information sought on 'Stirling in the Time of the Stuarts'

Stirling in the Time of the Stuarts, 1673
Topic: Other

This is one of the oldest paintings we have in the collection but we know little of its history. We know the donation came from a local bookseller (Mr Shearer) in the early 1930s, who got it from Stirling of Auchlyne (Herbertshire Castle, Dunipace) in 1899.

This is a very ancient building. The date of its erection is unknown. Its situation on the north bank of the Carron is very beautiful. The banks of the river above the house are extremely picturesque, sloping in stripes of verdant meadows, tufted with trees to the water's edge and rising boldly into rocks fringed with brushwood and crowned with plantations, amid which a beautiful variety of walks conducts to the most striking features of this romantic scene. It was originally a royal hunting station. In the fifteenth century, it was in the possession of that once powerful family, the Sinclairs, Dukes of Orkney. In the following century, it was the property of the Earls of Linlithgow, from whom it passed into a family named Stirling, cadets of the Stirlings of Auchyle in Perthshire. An heiress of this surname, Lady of Lord Alva, Senator of the College of Justice, sold it about 70 years ago to a Mr Morehead, whose grandson sold it in 1835 to the present proprietor, William Forbes, Esq. of Callendar, MP for the county of Stirling.

Where was it prior to this, and why was it not in the Royal collections at Windsor? Did he not get paid and refuse to hand it over, as the King 'underpaid' him for the Windsor painting? By 1673, Stirling Castle was effectively a military facility and not a Royal Palace, so its unlikely to have been there. There is also another version in an Abbey in England.

The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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Martin Hopkinson,

Could this have been painted for the Governor of Stirling Castle , the 22nd Earl of Mar, rather than for the King? And could it have left the family collection as a consequence of his son's participation in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion?

Kieran Owens,

In Volume II of his 'Anecdotes of Painting in England, with Some Account of the Principal Artists...' of 1849, Horace Walpole mentions that John Vosterman (sic) "painted a view of Stirling Castle, the figures by Wyck, from whence we may conclude that they took a journey to Scotland." Thomas van Wyck's dates are accepted as 1616 -1677 and Vosterman's dates are widely given as 1643 - 1693 (and not to 1699 as in Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum's record for this work).

A detailed biographical record of Vosterman's life was printed in Matthew Pilkington's 'The Gentleman's and Connoisseur's Dictionary of Painters' (1798) ( ) and Walpole's amusing entry for Vosterman can be seen here -

Supposedly in c.1690, Jan van Wyck (1652 - 1702), Thomas's son, painted 'Heron Hawking below Stirling Castle', which is in the Yale Centre for British Art. See the following:

However, if perhaps Wyck father and son accompanied Vosterman to Stirling, the latter-mentioned Yale painting might have actually been produced by Wyck the son before his father's death in 1677. Vosterman would have been nearer Jan van Wyck's age (a nine year difference) compared to Wyck Senior (a twenty-seven year difference).

Kieran Owens,

Please note, too, that the spelling used above, of Vosterman as opposed to Vorsterman, is as per Walpole's usage, even though in his footnote on the artist he acknowledges that the other spelling is also "commonly written".

Kieran Owens,

On Tuesday 13th June 1933, The Scotsman newspaper published the following, under Wills & Estates:

"John Elliot Shearer (74), of 1, Queen's Road, Sterling, publisher and antiquary, sole partner of the firm R.S. Shearer & Son, booksellers and stationers, 6, King Street, Sterling. Personal estate, £6,553." Shearer was thus born in c.1859.

The attached also appeared in the Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 28th April 1899, when Shearer was 40 years old.

Kieran Owens,

And finally, in "English Taste in Landscape in the Seventeenth Century" by Henry Vining Seton Ogden and Margaret Sinclair Ogden (University of Michigan Press, 1955), on page 181, as item number 133, is listed "'Sterling Castle', by Jan Vorsterman (sic), in the collection of the Duke of Portland." The Duke's ownership of the painting is backed up by the attached clipping from the The Scotsman of Tuesday 06 July 1937.

Kieran Owens,

Sorry, it's late!! Sterling immediately above should, of course, read as Stirling.

Osmund Bullock,

The NICE entry for this work (link top right) attributes it only to 'School of' Johannes Vorsterman, but then rather confuses the issue with the secondary attribution directly to Thomas Wyck (not 'School of'). Not sure what to make of that. The entry also mentions the Welbeck Abbey (Portland) version, but without further comment. The author Dr Claudia (Heide-) Hopkins is still active at Edinburgh Uni/School of Art, so could be contacted - though as her self-described specialist field is Spanish art and culture, it may be that she merely collated and précised for NICE the information from the sources given.

The version at Welbeck - clearly the unidentified 'Abbey in England' in the intro above - inevitably raises questions. It is certainly possible that there was another more contemporary version; but a fine early Victorian copy by a good artist like Sir George Harvey might well have had enough age about it to confuse the unwary in an age of less scientific art historical expertise - and that it was a fine copy seems to be demonstrated by this version of the same story about its creation and subsequent history in 'The Scottish Antiquary' of July 1899: .

Osmund Bullock,

I'm puzzled by the story in the Dundee Evening Telegraph - what do they mean by the painting having been "knocked out" to a Stirling gentleman at the 1853 sale? Then as now, the 'knock out' at a sale is the last stage in a 'ring', whereby dealers depress prices at the sale proper by not bidding against each other, then later hold a secondary auction amongst themselves of what they've bought cheap. I suppose the journalist got it wrong - he meant "knocked down". OK, but then if the gentleman (or lawyer in the 'Antiquary' version) bought it, albeit by mistake, why did he need to take it on loan to have the copy made?

Now even if all that is confusing but capable of some explanation, we still have a situation where in 1853 the original painting was sold to somebody (or else it was unsold and returned to the Stirling family), and a copy was made by a decent artist at much the same time. The history of our (Smith) version seems, prima facie, secure back to the Stirling family and Herbertshire Castle - when John Elliot Shearer (3 Nov 1859 - 1 Dec 1932) bought it at an Edinburgh auction in 1899, on inquiry he was told the painting's history as we understand it. But nothing was apparently said or known about where it had been between 1853 and its supposed re-appearance at auction in 1899 - why not?

Oddly, however, it *is* known that twenty-odd years after being painted the copy was apparently sold "from the effects" (presumably after his death) of the man who had it painted...and who may have been the same man who owned the original. There was "keen competition" for this copy, and in 1876 it made "upwards of £100" - a really very high price for the period...which leads me to wonder if it was in fact the original that was sold then, not the copy. Note that both accounts specifically mention how good was the condition of the version bought by Shearer in 1899 - "excellent" and "in a fine state of preservation". The paintwork looks remarkably intact today, too, for an oil nearly 350 years old, though perhaps the result of substantial restoration at some point.

Osmund Bullock,

Finally we have the surprising acquisition in 1937 by the Collection of a photograph of the Portland version, with no doubt seemingly expressed about it being the/an original - and the source of the photo is a member of the Stirling family, who we know to have been the owners of the original up to 1853! All of which, I'm afraid, must at least raise the possibility of the Portland indeed being the original, and ours being the 1853 copy by Harvey.

How sure are the Collection that theirs is an original C17th work? My apologies if this *is* absolutely certain, as it well may be. And even if it is, it would still be very interesting to see a high-res scan of the photo of the Portland version, if they still have it - if not I might get in touch with Welbeck Abbey to see if they can help. If there *is* any doubt about our version's age, a higher-res image of the front and anything at all of the back would, as ever, be invaluable.

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, the attached report, from The Scotsman of Saturday 11th July 1931, might answer your perceptive speculations about the true creator of this discussion's work. It would appear that the original of this was (is?) in the collection of the Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey, and that ours is the copy made by Sir George Harvey, painted by him after it was "knocked out" in 1853 and before his death in 1876. If this is factually correct, than our painting is a Victorian copy and cannot reasonably continue to be described as "one of the oldest paintings we have in the collection...".

The painting was conserved in the 1970's and no doubt was cast on its age then. I have a image of the Portland one which shearer got done at the time. Will need to scan that so it will be next week before we can return to it.

The NICE Paintings entry says "Figures, wearing plaid, heading towards the gates, may have been painted by Thomas van Wyck". This information may have been derived from Walpole's Anecdotes..., published in 1762-71 (not 1849) and which was based on George Vertue's notebooks. Vertue died in 1756, so we are getting close to the date of Vorsterman's original. Vertue's notebooks were themselves published by the Walpole Society, so they could be searched for a reference to the painting. The reference to Wyck is indeed quite possibly Jan/John not Thomas, particularly in light of his Yale painting of Stirling.

Kieran Owens,

And please excuse me, too, the footnote referenced above would have been written by Ralph N. Wornum, and not Walpole. I will strive to be more accurate in future.

I am going to contact the National Gallery of Scotland for assistance in this as i think the work will need physical investigation to ascertain the age of the paint, frame etc. Unfortunately the conservation of the 1970's has covered up the evidence of the original canvas. Will let you all know if we get anywhere soon.

Kieran Owens,

Further details of the sale referenced in the attachment above, of the contents of Marieville, in Stirling, in which was offered Harvey's copy of Vorsterman's and van Wyck's "Stirling Castle", can be learned from the following two attachments. The first, from the Dundee Courier of Thursday 3rd February 1876, announces the death of Mrs. Lucas, and the second, from the Glasgow Herald of Wednesday 26 April 1876 announces the sale of the property of Marieville.

Osmund Bullock,

Vol 3 (published 1763) of the First Edition of ‘Anecdotes of Painting in England’ has the same footnote about the ‘view of Sterling-castle’ [sic] painted by Vo(r)sterman, so it came from Walpole not a later contributor. But there is nothing more said of what’s in the painting, Andrew, so the NICE description can’t have come from there: . Perhaps it derives from the two publications listed at the bottom of the entry?

I’ve also been working through Vertue’s notebooks, as published by the Walpole Society, but the indexing is confusing. I think I’ve finally covered it all now, but sadly there seems no more information there than Walpole gave in his version. However there *is* more, in copious introductory notes, about how Vertue arranged things, and clues there may be about where and when he got his information...and I’m still struggling to absorb all that. I have to leave it now, but will report back in a day or two.

I’m also working on things at the other end – Miss (not Mrs) Agnes Lucas, whose death in Feb 1876 precipitated the sale of, supposedly, the Harvey copy – but was it? – was the unmarried younger sister and heir of the man (he also died unmarried) who bought the painting and/or had it copied by Harvey in 1853. His name was James Lucas (1791-1864), and he was indeed a Stirling ‘writer’ (lawyer), though already retired in 1851. More of him shortly, too, though I’ve as yet found nothing much to help us pin things down.

Update to the history of this work. Our conservator has had a look at the canvas and believes it is machine made and therefore not 17th century. However the painting was lined by Aitken Dott of Edinburgh and with no notes we cannot confirm further. It looks like it might be the copy or a copy of a copy but we need to paint test to try and identify the date.

Osmund, did you manage to find out more in 2018?

The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, has any more research been done on this painting since 2018?