A passionate little blog started by a deerhound dog in Scotland called Rogue ‘Brylach’ MacAllister and Passed to Rascal ‘Logan’ Dorrator Heath

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Scottish Deerhound and Three Dandy Dinmonts

From Mallet antiques comes the little history of Scottish artist GOURLAY STEELL brother to John the sculptor who’s most famous works include the Scott Monument in Edinburghs, Princes’ Street and interestingly this Gourlay piece is a Deerhound. Read on and enjoy.


A Scottish Deerhound and Three Dandy Dinmonts by an open fire

Gourlay Steell, or the ‘Scottish Landseer’ as he came to be known, was born in Edinburgh in 1819. His family was an artistic one: his father a wood carver and an engraver, and his brother, Sir John Steell a well-known sculptor. Early in his career Steell taught modelling classes at the Watt Institute in Edinburgh. His teaching demonstrated an exceptional understanding of the anatomy and physiology of animals and at this time he produced models of animals that were reproduced by silversmiths.
Steell’s passion however was painting and he was accepted at the Trustees’ Academy where he studied under Sir William Allan and Sir Robert Scott Lauder. Lauder’s influence on the artist was significant and he is credited with having taught many of the most accomplished Scottish artists of the Victorian period. Steell began exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy when he was just fourteen years old. In 1846, at the age of twenty-seven years old, Steell was elected as an Associate ofthe Royal Scottish Academy and an Academician in 1859 - the same year he was selected as the official painter of the Highland Agricultural Society. Steell’s highest accolade came when he was appointed Animal Painter for Scotland by Queen Victoria, succeeding Sir Edwin Landseer, a position he retained until his death in 1894. The painter was also made Curator of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1882, again a role he continued until his death. Steell exhibited over two hundred and seventy paintings at the Royal Scottish Academy between 1835 and 1894 and also exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. He lived in Edinburgh throughout his life and is known to have lived in Randolph Place between 1870–76 and at 4 Palmerston Place. He also retained a studio
in the city at 123 George Street.

Steell’s reputation as an animal painter grew very quickly and the artist came to monopolise animal painting in Scotland. He received many aristocratic commissions for his work with patrons including the Earl of Wemyss, the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Rosebery, the Duke of Atholl and the Earl of Haddington. Steell painted The Earl of Wemyss with his Huntsman and Pack in 1862 and the painting shows Steell’s talent at
equestrian subjects as well as his obvious affection and understanding of canine form and character. The artist’s most notable commissions were from Queen Victoria who felt great affection for dogs. Many of Steele’s paintings remain in Queen Elizabeth II’s private collection. The best known of these commissions is A Cottage Bedside at Osborne, which pictures Queen Victoria reading the Bible to an elderly fisherman.
As with other paintings by the artist A Cottage Bedside was engraved which further enhanced Steell’s profile and popularity. Queen Victoria also commissioned portraits by Steell of her favourite dogs – including Jeannie in 1858 - showing a similarly vibrant palette of colours to the present painting. He also proudly exhibited sketches of Queen Victoria’s dogs, Noble, Corran and Waldmann at the Royal Academy in 1874 and
they were marked ‘painted by command’.

In the nineteenth century Queen Victoria set a precedent for the commissioning and collecting of portraits of dogs. Her interest in dog portraiture did much to encourage the careers of animal painters such as Sir Edwin Landseer, Richard Ansdell, Maud Earl, Charles Burton Barbour and Gourlay Steell. Dogs came in to their own in the nineteenth
century. They became primary subjects in paintings, previously havingbeen secondary subjects and often included for decoration or for symbolic reasons. It spawned a new interest in different breeds of dogs and a desire by owners to record their pets.

Queen Victoria’s fondness for dogs reportedly gave her great comfort in the more difficult times of her life. So extensive was her family of dogs that she built kennels in 1841 at the Cottage where her kennelman lived and also The Queen’s Cottage from which she would watch her dogs play. The cottage’s interior decoration scheme was much dominated by portraits of dogs. She became Patron of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1835 and gave it a Royal commission in 1840. In
1842 the Prince Consort gave his wife a Skye Terrier and during the 1840s several more were added to the Royal household. The Royal family’s interest enhanced certain breeds’ popularity, for example, the Skye Terrier, Collie, Pomeranian, Daschund, Scottish Deerhound and the Dandie Dinmont. Crufts dog show was first staged in 1886. Such was the interest in Queen Victoria’s collection of dogs in 1891 she was persuaded to exhibit a Collie and six of her Pomeranians at Crufts and all of them won prizes.

The present painting by Steell features two of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds of dog - the Scottish Deerhound and the Dandie Dinmont. Steell painted several paintings of the two breeds, which were indigenous to Scotland and the Borders. Dandie Dinmont at Home of 1885 became one of the most popular engravings of Steell’s paintings. The Scottish Deerhound was a favourite of Prince Albert and Steell’s other portraits
include Ghillie with Scottish Deerhounds. The Scottish Deerhound derives from the greyhound - a British breed that has been in existence for several centuries. It was bred as a deer-hunting dog by the Scottish chieftains in the Middle Ages. It adjusted to its environment and tasks and increased in its size and strength and grew a protective coat. The Scottish aristocracy adopted the breed as the Royal dog of Scotland and only those ranked as an Earl or above were allowed to own one. The
breed suffered in the decline of deer hunting and the diminishing power of the Scottish clans. However two enthusiasts Archibald and Duncan McNeill revived the interest in Scottish Deerhounds in the 1800’s. Owners such as Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott also contributed to their rebirth. Today, the breed is usually a companion dog but their speed and sense of smell would still lend them to hunting, tracking,racing and lure coursing. The Dandie Dinmont had less salubrious origins. The breed is thought to derive from the now extinct Scotch Terrier and the Skye Terrier and to have originated from the Borders. They were originally raised by gypsies and farmers to kill vermin and are also known to have hunted rabbit, otter and badger. They were christened by Sir Walter Scott who named them after a character in his novel ‘Guy Mannering’ in the 1800’s.

William Secord praised Steell highly in his definitive book on dog portraiture: ‘Dog Painting 1840-1940: A social history of the dog in art’, published in 1992. Secord admires Steell and comments that ‘his work includes some of the best dog portraits completed in the Victoria period’. The present portrait shows many of Steell’s fine qualities - his attention to form and character and the luxurious and vibrant backgrounds with which he frames his subjects. Several similarities can be drawn between the present picture and Bran, a Favourite Deerhound painted around 1880.
Bran was commissioned by Dr. Alexander and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880. Secord comments of Bran that ‘He [the deerhound] remains unperturbed by the activities of the churlish Terrier under the stool, who seems about to attack.’ Likewise the present picture shows playful Dandie Dinmonts and a dignified and watchful Scottish
Deerhound. Both pictures share similar props of a chair with a hunting horn and draperies slung over it and a skin on the floor; and are set against richly coloured backgrounds with a dramatic use of light.

Interest in the artist has been boosted recently by the inclusion of his 1885 work, A Highland Parting in the highly popular ‘A Picture of Britain’ exhibition at Tate Britain in 2005.

Scotland, circa 1860
Height: 67.7 in (172.0 cm) Width: 87.8 in (223.0 cm)
Location: New York


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