Horatio MacCulloch R. S. A., the celebrated landscape painter, died on the 24th of June, 1867.
The admirable Horatio McCulloch was Scotland’s most famous Victorian landscape artist whose paintings of Glencoe, Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond are probably his best known. Named after, you guessed it, Horatio Nelson, McCulloch became a sought after artist who established an international following for his epic Highland landscapes and who was a regular contributor to the exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy. The subjects of his numerous landscapes were taken almost exclusively from Scottish scenery and he frequently travelled to the Highlands to paint romanticised, dramatic landscapes, executed on large canvases, which appealed greatly to the Victorian taste.
McCulloch was influenced by the Nasmyth tradition of landscape painting and the natural, free style of Thomson of Duddingston. McCulloch applied a similar approach to his Highland landscapes. However, he ultimately formed his own style by planting his easel in the open air and making nature his studio. His paintings have a certain poetic feeling and he was credited, along with Landseer, for creating the Victorian image of the Scottish Highlands. He was essentially an oil-painter who felt nature was too substantial to be adequately represented by washes of thin pigments and, in consequence, his infrequent watercolours are nowhere near as good as his oils. He can be said be to landscape painting in Scotland what Raeburn is to portraiture and Wilkie to domestic art.
Horatio McCulloch was born in Glasgow, in 1806. At that time in Glasgow, training and exhibition facilities for artists were sadly lacking and he began working life as an apprentice to a house painter. Horatio also gained experience, whilst still a teenager, working as a scene painter at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. However, McCulloch was able to study easel painting for a year, under the guidance of John Knox, a Glasgow landscapist of some repute who added to his means of living by teaching drawing and painting. Later, McCulloch worked for a time in Cumnock, near Glasgow, where he painted ornamental pictures on the lids of snuff boxes.
MacCulloch practiced his embryonic talents through painting subjects by the banks of the Kelvin and Cart rivers, which were at that time, scenes of unpolluted pastoral beauty. McCulloch then followed his muse to Edinburgh, in 1825, where he was employed by Lizars, the Edinburgh engravers, to colour the illustrations in Selby’s ‘Ornithology’ and ‘British Birds’, and Lizars’s ‘Anatomy’. During that period, when he began working from nature, McCulloch became greatly influenced by the Nasmyth tradition of landscape painting and the watercolours of H. W. Williams. McCulloch was also influenced by the Reverend John Thomson of Duddingston, an accomplished amateur artist.
Three years later, in 1827, McCulloch returned to his native city, where he spent the next decade establishing his reputation as a talented and accomplished landscape artist. He was employed to produce several large pictures for the decoration of a public hall in St George’s Place and he also did more work as a theatrical scene-painter. In 1828, McCulloch had his first work exhibited in Glasgow, at the Dilettanti Society in Argyle Arcade, quickly followed by sell out exhibitions in Edinburgh and London, in 1829 and 1830. Ironically, it was around this time that the Theatre Royal in Glasgow was destroyed by fire.
In the 1830s, a commission from the Lord Provost of Glasgow, James Lumsden, helped established McCulloch’s reputation within Scotland. Then, in 1838, he moved back to Edinburgh where he spent most of the rest of his life. In 1839, McCulloch who by this time was a very sought after artist, went on tours of England and Wales. Between 1839 and 1843, according to an RSA announcement, “Mr McCulloch [was] engaged on assignments.” One of these took him to Rothesay, in 1841, and Bute, in 1831, where he painted ‘St Blane’s Church’, a picture which is now owned and displayed by Bute Museum. Another painting by McCulloch, entitled ‘View of Loch Fad, Isle of Bute, with Arran in the Distance’, was probably painted during that same visit.
His famous works, ‘Glencoe’ (1864) and ‘Loch Katrine’ (1866), are held by Glasgow Art Gallery and the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, respectively. Other celebrated paintings include, are the ‘Cuchulin Mountains’, ‘Lowland River’, ‘Loch Maree’, ‘A Dream of the Highlands’, ‘Highland Loch’, ‘Views in Cadzow Forest’, ‘Loch-an-Eilan’, ‘Mist on the Mountains’, ‘Sun Rising through the Mist’, ‘Sundown on Loch Achray’, ‘Quiet River’, ‘Kilchurn Castle’, ‘Knock Castle’, ‘Highland Stronghold’ and ‘Loch Lomond’.
McCulloch’s very grand ‘Highland Deer-Forest’, which was purchased by the Glasgow Art Union, was exhibited in London, where the Times’ critic spoke of it as being equal to the work of the great Turner. One of his friends, John Wilson (a.k.a. Christopher North), also paid an eloquent tribute to the genius and merits of MacCulloch, in a public speech.
MacCulloch first figured in the Royal Scottish Academy’s exhibition, in 1829, and year by year, he was a regular exhibitor. He was elected to the Royal Scottish Academy as an Associate, in 1838, and as a full Academician four years later. He also sent paintings to the Royal Academy of London, in 1843 and 1852, where the “gloomy poetic feeling” of his ‘Loch Coruiskin’ attracted attention. Thanks to engravings by William Miller and William Forrest, MacCulloch’s paintings are probably more popular in Scotland than those of any other landscape painter.
MacCulloch died as a consequence of an attack of paralysis, his third, on the 24th of June, 1867, after lying unconscious for a day and a half. His last picture was exhibited, unfinished, at the Royal Scottish Academy the following year. He is buried in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh, where there is a monument to his memory.