Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Balintore Castle Watercolour Dated 1864

I was wildly delighted to receive this image by email today from my architect Dr. Paul Bradley, who has recently purchased the original watercolour.

I did not know such a picture existed, but to me it tells a number of stories. 

The picture was painted just 4 years after construction of the castle, so it must be associated somehow with the original owner David Lyon and it is very much the castle, in newly constructed pride, saying "look at me". It looks to be painted by a talented amateur rather than a professional artist, so I would guess the artist was a member of the shooting party shown. Sketching and painting were very much the hobbies of the day.

There are 4 ladies and 3 gentlemen in the scene, so I am guessing the artist is the missing 4th gentleman. Gentlemen and ladies paint architecture in different ways, and this has a male cast. It is likely that his lady friend is the figure in the foreground writing or sketching - a shared common interest no doubt. Does the lady have a small easel at her feet? 

The vegetation is almost non-existent in the image: the castle's terrace was leveled in 1860  so there has only been 4 years growing time. Today, there are tall trees to the right and huge yews to the left. I always thought it would be a shame if any of the trees died, but the terrace without the trees has a exposed raw beauty of its own.

There is a balustraded stone wall to the rear of the picture. I never knew such a wall existed, but it could, if not artistic licence, explain a long-standing mystery. The earliest photo of the castle (c 1860) shows no balustrading on the inner courtyard wall on the left hand side of this image. It is not shown here, in 1864, either. However, a photograph of 1923 shows the courtyard wall to be balustraded. I am now wondering if the balustrading was moved during the history of the castle? Perhaps the garden wall got damaged in some way, so the balustrading was consolidated on the shorter run of the courtyard wall?

I was told about a cannon in front of the castle, in living memory, I would guess the 1950's. There is a cannon in this picture, so could it be the one and the same? I had no idea this feature could have gone right back to the earliest days of the castle.

The figures are depicted in a way that seems more 18th Century or even 17th Century - no doubt the old-world romance of the Highlands, as penned by Sir Walter Scott, is the aim!

What could the red flag be? Surely it must be an artistic confection, as I cannot think of any relevant flags that would fit. The artist has picked out the red hem of his lady friend's dress and hem of the dress of the lady on the pony riding side-saddle, suggesting he was using his red brush as embellishment.

The mist lying in the valley below is one of my favourite looks too.

The castle's spelling is old form "Balentore" as seen on the original architectural plans, rather then the current "Balintore". I wondered whether the plans' spelling was an aberration or mistake, but the evidence here now suggests this was the received spelling in the 1860's.

Hope you enjoyed my Sherlock Holmes dissection of the picture. 

1864 Watercolour of Balintore Castle


  1. I first thought the fog was indeed water and momentarily considered the puggling job of locomating the castle from Arbroath to its current place near Kirrie!

  2. Beautiful painting. Interesting about the red flag, artistic licence?

    1. I'm thinking artistic licence myself. Though of course, someone may know otherwise.

  3. What a find... Would love to see a photo from the same angle of the castle as it now stands!

    1. I'll see what I can do when next in the vicinity!

  4. What a gem you have there David!!

  5. What a gem you have there David!!

  6. Marvellous image, it is redolent of the castles in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and as such captures the medieval references in the architectural styles. You will be better able to judge than me, David, but there seems to be an element of vertical elongation, again similar to the images in the Tres Riches. The compositional conventions of the time were built around the desire to create balance and an illusion of three dimensional space. The eye should be drawn into the space in the centre. Your eye should not be aware of the edge nor the world outside that edge. To this end there is a tree on the right edge and the castle on left edge. This drawing of the eye and enclosing the centre space is re-enforced by the slight inclination towards the centre of the castle which also discourages the eye from wandering over the edge and away from the centre. This is mirrored by the inclination of the front tree on the right, again for the same purpose. Similarly, the red flag may not be heraldically correct but is a rich red to distract from the edge and to counter balance the red at the bottom of the dress. The foremost figure has compositional functions. It part of the restraining frame that is formed by the leftmost tree and the foremost bank that leads the eye back to woman in the front with the bright red hem. This bright red hem was to counter balance the red flag at the top of the picture. Which leads me to think the colour of the flag may be partially correct, at least in its choice of colour.
    While the figures have a narrative function, depicting the buildings primary function, leisure, they also had other functions. Firstly, scale, to emphasise the size of the building and secondly their positioning. They are positioned in such a way as to lead the eye again into the centre of the picture.
    Now all this might lead you to think that this was not the work of an amateur but you should be aware that few pictures of the time would not have followed these conventions of framing the centre space to create a sense of depth and trying to lead the eye into that centre space. Also bear in mind the only images created at the time were hand made.

    1. Thanks Neil for the insight in to the watercolour. The building definitely stretched vertically which is a hallmark of French Gothic, so the Duc de Berry comment is spot on.

    2. This is a carefully crafted image in several ways I have not mentioned. The point being while details have been added to craft that image what has been left out for similar reasons?

  7. Re-reading your blog again there is an element of myth building in the use of figures but, unlike the architecture of the building, that myth is in the international tradition of Arcadia and the Pastoral. Figures are used in the manner in many landscapes from many countries in the previous centuries. Claude, Lorraine, Constable, Turner, et al.
    The mist may be aerial perspective - lightening of tone - to suggest distance. In age of feminism you should be careful about saying such things as 'of a make cast'. Feminists are strong in prompting the minor arts and crafts as an outlet for female creativity. Watercolour, Turner and Palmer excepts, would have been seen as minor and secondary to oil painting and would favour a female artists. However, I recognise that the numbers favour a male artist.

  8. Dear friend,

    I'm a girl from Spain and several coincidences have brought me to your blog. I am absolutely fascinated by your recovery efforts of Balintore.
    I would encourage you to continue uploading publications as well as the pics, they are wonderful. For my part, I wonder if you know local legends, sayings or information about the first owner of Balintore castle, Mr David Lyon. I would be very pleased if you can share it.

    Moreover, the watercolor is just beautiful.I think the red ribbon on the clothes,the red flag, and the other little red trail on the horse are closely connected, probably meaning a strong relationship between the two people and the castle. I'm sure Balintore is full of powerful, secret and beautiful stories :)
    Best regards,

    P.S. It is said there are stunning views of Northern Lights from Loch Lintrathen, not far from the castle.Hope you can enjoy them! :)

    1. Dear Blanca,

      Many thanks for your kind comments all the way from Spain. I was actually born in Gibraltar, but the family moved away just as I was starting to pick up Spanish, so I missed the chance to be bilingual. I do indeed have extra information about David Lyon, I just need to find time to put the information on the blog. I will try and share this over the Christmas break.

      I have been in contact with the owner of the water colour this evening, and he is going to get a better scan done so I can put it on the blog. The original has more detail, better colours, but a different colour balance. In fact the water colour was done on blue paper, which may explain why the red looks a little odd. You need a good view of the northern horizon to get the northern lights from Scotland. The castle has a big mountain to the north so will never see the lights. However, Lintrathen Loch does have a good view north. Sadly, I have always been away when the northern lights have come to Angus - one day I will see them! :-)

      Kind regards,