To this day the town of Dailly, nestled in the beautiful Carrick countryside, holds a certain feel and look that would motivate any artist to take out their pencil, paints or easel. So it is no surprise that in actual fact this town holds a long history of artistic connections, two of the most notable are John Thomson and William Bell Scott….
One of Dailly’s most famous natives was The Rev. John Thomsan, a Minster and painter he was to become remembered through the annals of time in Scotland, not just for his work and paintings but for beginning a famous adage that is still used today.
The fourth son of the local parish minister and youngest of eight, Thomson was born 1 September 1778 in the manse at Dailly.
It was apparent from early in his life, that Thomson had flair for the arts, inspired by the Carrick countryside; he developed a love for landscape painting.
At the age of 14, Thomson began attending Glasgow University to study law and theology before transferring to Edinburgh University two years later to continue his studies. In Edinburgh, he started to mingle in artistic circles where he met people like Sir Walter Scott and Alexander Nasmyth, who gave him art lessons.
Following graduation, Thomson returned to Dailly to become a preacher of the Gospel, and was subsequently ordained as minister of the village in 1800. He went on to live in Duddingston near Edinburgh and became the most famous minister of the local Kirk, holding the post from 1808 to 1840.
Moving back East gave him the chance to renew his acquaintances from his artistic past and develop his art further. Influenced by the techniques of Rosa, Lorrain, Poussin, Raeburn and renowned English landscape artist Turner, he developed a broad romantic style, and became a landscape artist with an established reputation. This allowed him to greatly add to his small salary as a minister and become quite wealthy through the sale of his paintings.
Thomson had a studio at the foot of the manse garden on the shore of Duddingston Loch. This was replaced by Duddingston Tower, a structure designed for Duddingston Curling Society in 1825 by William Playfair. The Society used the ground floor as their clubhouse, and Thomson used the upper floor of the tower, known today as ‘Thomson's Tower’, as his studio.
Prior to it being known as ‘Thomson’s Tower’, Thomson named the Tower "Edinburgh.” This ensured his privacy when painting in the studio, as any casual visitor to the Manse could be informed by his staff that he was unavailable, as he had gone to ‘Edinburgh’.
While at Duddingston, Thomson became friendly with writer and fellow amateur artist, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. Such was Thomson’s reputation that in 1818 he entertained Turner at his studio, who is said to have remarked when looking out to the loch, "By God sir, I envy you that piece of water."
Thomson went on to collaborate with Turner in producing engravings to illustrate Walter Scott's ‘Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland’, published in 1826.
Thomson’s talents were recognised by his congregation when they nominated him to become a member of the Association of Artists in Edinburgh. In addition, he received honorary memberships of the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy.
Thomson died at Duddingston on 28 October 1840.
A well known Scottish phrase.
In addition to being known for his art, Thomson is credited with giving rise to the famous Lowland Scots adage "We’re a' Jock Tamson’s bairns",
Thomson’s first marriage to Isabella Ramsay brought him five children. Following her death, he married Frances Ingram Spence widow of Martin Dalrymple to whom she had five children. They went on to have four more children, in all, a total of fourteen children. When introducing the children to visitors Mrs Thomson would say, “That’s my family, that’s John’s family but these are ours”. At this point John would interrupt saying “They’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”, and thus he coined the well-known Scottish phrase: 'We're a' Jock Tamson's bairns'.
William Bell Scott
In 1848, as revolutions swept continental Europe and an uprising for social reform known as Chartism unsettled Britain, seven rebellious young artists in London formed a secret society with the aim of creating a new British art. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
The brotherhood was founded by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were then joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner.
Disenchanted with contemporary academic painting, the group's intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach, first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Instead, the group emulated the art of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe from a time that predated Raphael. This was the inspiration for their name The Pre- Raphaelite Brotherhood.
The group believed the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael had been corrupting the teaching of art. Instead, the brotherhood wanted a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art.
William Bell Scott
Born in Edinburgh on 12 September 1811, William was the son of Rose Bell and Robert Scott the engraver. It was not only his father who shared William’s flare for the arts, his brother David, five years his elder, was also a painter.
In his youth, William studied art and assisted his father while also publishing verses in Scottish magazines. He became well known as an artist after he went to London in 1837, then in 1844 he was appointed master of the government school of design at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He held this post for twenty years.
In addition, he completed many decorative works throughout the UK, notably at Wallington Hall, in the shape of eight large pictures illustrating Borders history, with life-size figures, supplemented by eighteen pictures illustrating The ballad of Chevy Chase in the spandrels of the arches of the hall.
Penkill Castle - Carrick, Ayrshire
At the request of Alice Boyd, he completed a series of murals for the spiral staircase at Penkill Castle in similar fashion to his work at Wallington Hall.
Seven paintings in total, the subject of the series is the poem "The King's Quair" written by King James I in 1420 whilst he was in captivity at Windsor Castle. The poem tells the story of how the King, during his incarceration at Windsor, saw and fell in love with Lady Jane, whom he later married.
Each painting depicts a different scene from the story. They are held at the Dick Institute and can be viewed in full online at Future Museums.
William Bell Scott, Letitia and Alice Boyd
From the 1860s William Bell Scott, his wife Letitia and Alice Boyd of Penkill Castle, Ayrshire, had lived as a ménage à trios. They spent their winters in the Scotts’ home in London and summers at Penkill.
In his mid sixties Scott ceased to exhibit but continued to make etchings while also being an examiner at London art schools.
John Thomson and William Bell Scott are two very different types of artists and in fact very different types of people, yet for those who have visited, it is not surprising that such artistic connections are linked to the small town of Dailly in Carrick. Today, Dailly still holds an abundance of natural beauty in quaint setting, so why not take a trip and feel inspired.
Top: Reverend John Thomson of Duddingston by William Wallace
© National Galleries of Scotland
Bottom: The King's Quair I, painted at Penkill Castle, 1865-68, by William Bell Scott
Reproduced by permission of East Ayrshire Council