How did artists create a stereotype of Scotland?

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1. Scotland the myth

When we think of Scotland's countryside we often think of mist, heather, hills and glens.

For many, Scotland’s dramatic landscape has become a kind of cultural shorthand for bravery, purity and integrity. This can be seen in Hollywood blockbusters like Highlander and Braveheart which combine rugged scenery with stories of legend and sacrifice.

But for others these images have become so cliched that artists have been trying to avoid them for 150 years. However these stereotypical images of the Highlands were of Scotland's own making. Artists in the 19th Century made their names by painting a romantic view of their landscape from deer to mountains. So how did they create such an enduring vision of the country?

2. Which paintings sold the Scottish stereotype?

Scotland's wild and craggy landscape inspired work by artists including Horatio McCulloch, Rev John Thomson and Sir Edwin Landseer.

My Heart's in the Highlands by Horatio McCulloch.

Bridgeman Images

Kelvingrove Art Gallery

On the Firth of Clyde by Rev John Thomson.

Scottish National Gallery

Glencoe by Horatio McCulloch.

Hulton Fine Art Collection

Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Detail of Monarch of the Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Bridgeman Images

United Distillers & Vintners

Loch Lomond by Horatio McCulloch.

Bridgeman Images

Kelvingrove Art Gallery

3. Breaking the mould

Horatio McCulloch was one of the most well known artists who captured Scotland's wilderness in the late 19th Century.

He was influenced by another painter, the Rev John Thomson, who himself took inspiration from the writer Walter Scott. Scott had also celebrated the Highland and its scenery in his books Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.

In the 18th Century landscapes had been painted as peaceful, country idylls bathed in a sort of golden glow which made the wilderness look gentle. But in the work of McCulloch and Thomson, Scottish art freed itself from these long-held artistic traditions. Their ground-breaking Highland landscapes were romantic, wild and dramatic.

McCulloch produced a series of landscapes that were expressive and he wasn't afraid to use paint freely. He was the first of the Scottish artists to venture out of doors and paint oil sketches and watercolours directly from the landscape. The images he created were pioneering.

Another artist of the time was Queen Victoria’s favourite painter, an Englishman named Sir Edwin Landseer. He painted Highland crofters alongside an even greater cast of Scottish wildlife from birds of prey to Highland cattle.

His painting, The Monarch of the Glen, with a stag emerging from a swirl of Highland mist continues to be one of the most reproduced visual icons in history. The painting still inspires contemporary artists from Peter Blake to Peter Saville, who have appropriated the image within a modern context.

4. A particular view of Scotland

McCulloch and Landseer’s paintings are often rejected by the taste-makers of Scottish culture.

They’re viewed with suspicion, almost as if they had been imposed upon Scotland like an act of cultural colonialism. But this vision is how Scotland chose to present itself to the world.

There’s no doubt that a great deal of 19th Century Scottish art is based on a romantic myth of the countryside. The landscape of Scotland was, in reality, a place of great hardship where people were treated like commodities.

But myths, lies and propaganda have been part of Scottish art for centuries. It may not be popular, but any other country in the world would kill for the kind of instantly identifiable imagery that Scotland has inherited in spades.

5. Who romanticised the Highlands?

Artists like McCulloch and Landseer helped popularise the romanticism of the Highlands, but who else played a part?

James MacPherson

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James MacPherson

The ‘lost’ poems of Ossian popularised ancient Celtic myths when published by MacPherson in 1760. They were later revealed to be a hoax.

Queen Victoria

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Queen Victoria

Victoria and Albert enjoyed visiting rural Scotland and made trips to the ‘wilderness’ fashionable.

Sir Walter Scott

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Sir Walter Scott

His hugely popular novels were populated by daring and romantic characters in atmospheric Highland landscapes.