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.

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