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March 8th 1803

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Edwin Landseer, artist

Edwin Landseer was born in London, one of seven children. From a very early age he showed great artistic talent with a particular gift for painting animals, mainly dogs and menagerie animals.

In 1824, when he was 21, he visited Scotland for the first time, staying with Sir Walter Scott and later with the Duke of Atholl at Blair castle. He already knew something of Scotland from Sir Walter’s novels but on his first visit to Blair Atholl he fell in love with the Highlands. The grandeur of the scenery, the quaintness of the inhabitants (to his eyes) and the magnificence of the wild life, particularly the deer, all combined to excite and delight him. In addition, he enjoyed the outdoor pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing and the company of the landed gentry who could indulge such pastimes.

Though he was a small man, he was good looking and a noted raconteur who became a welcome guest at these Highland shooting parties. He never married but was certainly attractive to and attracted by women. He had a certain tendency to leave his paintings unfinished until, in some cases, years later. For these reasons, it is sometimes difficult to date or even set a locality for some of them. There is no doubt that he painted a number of pictures in the Blair Atholl area which he visited in 1824 ’25 and ’26. His picture ‘Death of the Stag in Glen Tilt’ was painted especially for the Duke of Atholl and portrays the old Duke, his grandson, the Duke’s head keeper, John Crerar and his son Charles about to gralloch the dead stag.

To modern eyes it seems an over romanticised scene but was very popular with the Victorians. Probably his most famous animal painting ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851. In the catalogue entry was a poem from a collection known as Legends of Glenorchy.

Uprose the Monarch of the Glen
Majestic from his lair
Surveyed the scene with piercing ken
And sniffed the fragrant air.

Glenorchy was part of the Marquis of Breadalbane’s estates where Landseer often stayed and it seems logical to assume that the picture was painted in that locality. However it has been suggested that Glen Quoich in Invernesshire might have been the scene. It is a wonderful picture but like many of Landseer’s paintings there is a strong strain of anthropomorphism in the work. The Monarch displays an almost human pride and arrogance. In the same way, his dying stags appear both noble and tragic, carefully posed like some dying heroine of Victorian melodrama.

Later in his life Landseer suffered both physical and mental sickness. He died October 1st 1873.

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