Bass Rock, Dumbarton
Research by Anne Fielding
Sam Bough is one of the most celebrated and prolific British landscape painters of the
late 19th century. Bough was born in Carlisle and became a theatre scene painter in Manchester and Glasgow before moving to Edinburgh in 1855. On arrival in the city, Bough, a Bohemian character whom John Phillip depicted looking like a 'gypsy king or brigand chief' (S Gilpin, p99) declared, 'I found I couldn't stand Edinburgh, so at the end of the week I mizzled and went with Alick (Fraser Jr) to Cumberland and Westmorland.' (ibid p96) He affected a bluff, genial persona, drinking heavily and talking plainly. Bough was encouraged to take up landscape painting by Daniel McNee.
Previously Bough had lived in Hamilton and worked extensively in Cadzow Forest with Alexander Fraser and Horatio McCulloch, his great friend and rival, with whom he nursed a long-standing feud over a wager. He was wild and erratic but his work could be brilliant.
Bough settled in the capital, in Jordan Lane, and executed some of his most significant Edinburgh pictures circa 1862. His memory was legendary, particularly for cloud and atmospheric effects, and these are put to full use in the light summer sky, foliage and dappling sunlight. One of Bough’s great strengths and passions was the observation of weather and cloud formation. So excited was he by painting the weather that he would obtain reliable forecasts from one of the principal fishmongers of Edinburgh. Bough frequently painted the coast and it was as much the fisherfolk that drew him as the picturesque villages and boats. Bough’s contemporaries admired his paintings, finding them to be like the man himself, masculine and powerful but sometimes ‘common’.
Samuel Bough died in 1872 and was buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. R L Stevenson penned a glowing obituary of him. 'A painting by Bough was an act of dashing conduct like a capture of a fort in war.'
This painting is a characteristic Bough work; its expressive sky and calm sea convey the grandeur of nature using a limited, grey-toned palette contrasting with the ochre and brown tones of the ploughman and the field.
The Bass Rock is an island in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland.
It is approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) offshore. It is a steep-sided volcanic rock, 107 metres (351 feet) at its highest point and is home to a large colony of gannets. The rock is currently uninhabited but, historically, had been settled by an early Christian hermit and later was the site of an important castle which was, after the Commonwealth period (1649-1660), used as a prison. The Bass Rock features in numerous works of fiction including Robert Louis Stevenson’s 'Catriona'.
The painting was donated by William J Orr CBE and Miss M L Orr of Sandyway, Cheshire. Mr Orr and his sister grew up in St Annes, living on North Promenade. William was a cotton spinner and manufacturer and inherited the business from his father, James Orr. His mother, Mary was Scottish so perhaps the picture came from her family or was bought as a reminder of Scotland.
Gilpin, S, Sam Bough RSA, his life and works, pub London 1905