Hunter and Deer in a Highland Landscape by Richard Ansdell
Research by Sarah Kellam
Acc No 64
Artist Richard Ansdell
Artist dates 1815-1885
Medium oil on canvas
Size 29 x 71 in
Date painted 1870
Donor Col. G. G. H. Bolton
Date donated 19 January 1953
Full signature and dated 1870 in the bottom right-hand corner.
This painting depicts a typical deer hunting scene that would have been re-enacted every day in the Scottish Highlands during the sporting season. The most striking thing about this painting is the mellow palette that Ansdell has chosen, perfectly conveying to the viewer the weather-related colours and atmosphere of the Highland scenery – that of damp grass, boggy terrain and misty mountains. They are golden tinged suggesting that sunshine is not far away behind the recent storm. The rocks and boulders are so typical of Ansdell and this particular formation appears quite frequently in his paintings. He was known to have many oil studies of rocks in his studio for reference and had a great enjoyment in painting them.
The kilted figure would be a ghillie or gamekeeper whose job was to conduct a deer shoot for the gentry. Every estate in the Highlands would have a dedicated ghillie and it was his responsibility to manage the deer herds, keeping them in tip-top condition and also keeping their numbers down. The ghillie is dressed traditionally – the kilt being the most practical of garb, being warm and versatile. Wool was always to hand as sheep were numerous, and each item of clothing is derived from sheep, even down to the horn toggles on the jacket. The sporran was carded wool which is where the bullets were kept and the Tam O’ Shanter and woollen plaid rug are in evidence for when the weather closes in. The plaid rug was vital as it doubled up as a blanket if the ghillie needed to spend the night on the hillside.
Here we see the ghillie checking the scene before the sportsmen arrive. He has previously laid out some sheaves of corn to tempt the deer. This has attracted a large herd with at least two stags. The herd can be seen well into the distance on the middle right of the painting. It seems that he has shot a hind – this might be for his own table (his perks) or it might be that the animal may have been weak or ill. The elderly stag in the centre may have caught a second bullet. The size of the herd can well sustain one or two losses.
Sarah Kellam © 2018
Sarah Kellam is the Great Great Grand- daughter of Richard Ansdell