Monday, October 31, 2011

A bit of a mystery - is this a picture of nineteenth century Oban?


This picture has had a somewhat chequered history. I'm about to list it for sale in my online shop, but I'm still curious about it. We bought it some years ago, and it was a grim old oil painting with almost no details visible. It looked as though it had spent many years in a smoky environment and seemed to be pretty much caked with nicotine. (Anyone who has ever had any dealings with old pictures from homes where people smoke would think twice about taking up the habit!) You could see from the reverse side that it was very old - an old stretched canvas on a very old wooden frame

Eventually, we had it professionally cleaned, and saw that it was a very interesting old picture - unsigned and in a naive style. Sadly, then, disaster struck. We were having some work done in a room where the picture was stored and it was damaged. Now, my artist husband has repaired it beautifully, and it's very hard to see the damage, although you can see it from the reverse side.

We think it's Oban, but not Oban as we know it today. For a start. McCaig's tower, on the hill above the town, isn't there. This seems to be a thriving Victorian town, with high hills rising behind, and a busy harbour. You can see plenty of sailing boats, fishing cobles, and what looks like a steam powered herring drifter, with a red chimney. The fishermen would take their catch to these drifters, which could then transfer the fish to the big markets. 

The sailing boats are beautifully realised, very detailed and accurate. The picture has a strange vibrancy, the light in it is wonderful, and although it's by no means an 'old master', it has huge charm. As I say - we think it's probably Oban, although we did wonder about Tarbert, Loch Fyne. If anyone has a definitive answer, I'd be very glad if they would let me know! We'd also love to know when it was painted, and obviously, the clue to that would lie in the buildings that are, or are not, there. We suspect a date of about 1870s but that's just a guess. If you know better, do let me know.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St Mungo - A Mystical Picture

My husband, artist Alan Lees, completed this picture of Glasgow's 'patron saint', Mungo (or Kentigern as he is sometimes called) a few weeks ago. There's something really special about it - but I think it's probably the strangest image he has ever created. Mungo was a (late sixth century) holy man of the early celtic church, who built a church next to the Molendinar Burn - where the magnificent cathedral now stands - calling it his 'dear green place' which is the meaning of the name of the city.
His legend traditionally involves a bird, a tree, a bell and a fish.
Mungo restored life to the pet robin of Saint Serf, which had been killed by some of his fellow classmates, who were hoping to blame him for its death.
When left in charge of a fire in Saint Serf's monastery, he fell asleep and the fire went out. Taking branches from a tree, he restarted the fire.
The bell was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased - many holy men at the time had these 'square' bells to call the faithful to prayer.
Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch who asked to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality the King had thrown it into the River Clyde himself. She appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a young man to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside.
The bell, the bird, the fire - but not the fish - are all in Alan's picture. Presumably, the fish is still in the river! However you look at it, this is a strange and evocative piece of work.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Floor Tiles In Winchester Cathedral

This post has little to do with Scotland or homes, but when you're interested in antiques, just occasionally you find yourself completely smitten with love for some object or other. This summer, we found ourselves visiting Winchester Cathedral for the first time - a wonderful experience, especially for somebody like me who used to be a Mediaevalist to trade (I have an honours degree in Mediaeval Studies, from Edinburgh University) and is still to some extent a historian, although most of my interest tends to manifest itself in fiction, these days. The cathedral is - unlike some others - quite plain from the outside, (well, plain for a cathedral!) but the inside is amazing - full of light, air and beauty. But amid all the stone and woodcarving, the things I liked most of all, (well, other than the books, in the library, which were amazing!) were the floor tiles - this cathedral has the largest surviving area of Mediaval tiles in the UK, and there is something about the colours and patterns of these that is so enticing.

Look at the stars in the section above for instance? Why the seemingly haphazard arrangement? Did it have some significance? Or was it simply that some tiles wore away and had to be replaced? You can read about them and much more about this amazing floor, on a fascinating website here.