East Ayrshire Council has successfully raised the £85,100 needed to buy a nationally significant set of watercolours which will go on display at Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, early next year.
The Eglinton Watercolours by James Henry Nixon are considered to be of outstanding significance for the study of Scottish social history and of the Gothic Revival in 19th century Britain. The accompanying historic shields, which were used to furnish the knights’ tents at the 19th century tournament, have been purchased for £7,000, along with the watercolours.
Culture Minister Barbara Follett placed an export bar on the set of twenty watercolours, providing a last chance to raise funds to keep them in the UK. The paintings depict scenes from The Eglinton Tournament, an important event in 19th century Scottish social history. The watercolours were created to be used by lithographers for a folio account of the Eglinton tournament which was published in 1843.
Pamela Robertson, Reviewing Committee member, said: “These remarkably detailed and lively watercolours document an important event in Scottish social history, and, in their published form, played a crucial role in popularising the Eglinton Tournament.”
The Minister’s ruling followed a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the watercolours are so closely connected with the nation’s history and life that their departure would be a misfortune.
The Eglinton Tournament, which took place over three days in August 1839, highlighted the 19th century fascination with all things medieval. Privately funded by Lord Eglinton at a cost of £40,000 and held in front of the castle on his Ayrshire estate, the spectacle included a procession, jousting by tilt and mêlée, a banquet and a ball. It was attended by 100,000 people who travelled from across Britain, Europe and even America. The event captured the imagination of a public whose appetite for recreating the Age of Chivalry had been whetted by authors such as Sir Walter Scott. It drew attention to Scottish heritage and helped to fan the flames of the Gothic Revival.
Little is known about the artist, James Henry Nixon, except that he was artistic partner in a London stained-glass firm. His watercolours provide a detailed record of the event and the published lithographs were accompanied by text identifying the people depicted and describing their costumes. The blue skies which appear in the background represent artistic licence because, in true British fashion, the first day of the tournament was deluged by torrential rain.
The successful purchase and £156,100 funding package means that the watercolours and shields will go on display at Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, during March 2010. A new exhibition will take place during the summer of 2011 at The Dick and will feature collections from throughout the country relating to the tournament and the Gothic Revival of the period. A publication and interactive will also be produced to coincide with the exhibition, alongside a dynamic event programme. This will feature jousting competitions at Dean Castle and hopefully Eglinton Park during the exhibition period.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council, said: “It is fantastic news that we have secured the watercolours and shields, as they form such an important part of our Ayrshire history. The display at Dean Castle and major exhibition at The Dick will help cement East Ayrshire’s reputation as an important cultural destination. We are extremely grateful to the funders and all who have supported this project in such a short timescale.”
Adam Geary, Arts and Museums Manager at East Ayrshire Council, said: “I am extremely grateful to Kim Sloan at the British Museum and James Knox, doughty campaigner for Ayrshire’s heritage, for their work in stopping the watercolours leaving the country, which has subsequently allowed East Ayrshire Council the opportunity to purchase these important collections and keep them here in Ayrshire. Particular thanks must go to the funding bodies, who have all worked very quickly to ensure we met the requirements of the temporary export bar. These include Heritage Lottery Fund (£50,000) The Art Fund (£37,000), Barcapel Foundation (£20,000) and National Fund for Acquisitions (£17,000). The watercolours and shields will make a great addition to our already impressive collections. “