Victorian Scottish landscape art and the classic view today

A reason, among many, we are drawn to landscape photography is to try and capture the beauty of the Scottish highlands, which when depicted in Victorian landscape paintings can feel somewhat over romanticised. The reality is that when you come to these places you are not disappointed and you discover the scenes these artists painted are indeed achievable if light and weather conditions are in your favour.

Foreground of a mountain stream and an old man fishing by in in victorian period outdoor clothes of a poor to middle ranking man. a path leads down into the misty glen below but disappears into mountain mist.

This image captures the feeling of being high up amongst the mountains, especially within areas like Glencoe.
Reproduced with permission: Peter Graham, Wandering Shadows, Scottish National Gallery, Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund 1944


Classic Scottish landscape photography often seeks to recreate this Victorian image of Scotland. It is interesting to compare landscape photography in Scotland today and see how much we enjoy the same images.

The film industry can’t get enough of it either. Witness the Hollywood film Brave and the latest bond movie Spyfall. Everyone wants a piece of Glen Etive style backdrop and back story. The connection with the spirit of the people who lived in the glens hundreds of years ago is sought after. The National Trust for Scotland promotes these locations to film makers.

Visit Scotland, the Scottish Tourism agency, are inviting people to sample ‘natural Scotland’ this year and due to the Bond movie and Brave,  CNN, the american broadcaster, made Scotland their number one vacation destination in 2013.

Here are a couple of our photographs from a recent trip to Glen Etive.

Tree in the foreground leads to a waterfall in a misty Sctottish Geln

A Highland misty day in January in Glen Etive

Looking along a geln past steep mountains either side in Glencoe.

Looking along Glencoe from the path to Glen Etive. Spoiled for choice as to what Glen to take.

We did not get the light that would have raised these shots to gallery quality. That is one advantage that the painter has over the photographer. A painter can create the light they want where they want it.

Read the accounts of leading landscape photographers such as Colin Prior or Joe Cornish and they talk about the repeat trips they make to the same location until the light is right for the picture they seek. We could have done with some light to pick out the tree in the foreground in the top scene. We will return to Glen Etive many times.

Joe Cornish’s book Scottish Mountains highlights that when working to a deadline of producing a book you have to recognise the reality of a place is often it rains or is murky. He says in the introduction “Majestic yet elusive effects of light mocked many of my photographic aspirations.” At the end of the book he describes these aspirations as “the mountainscape, in all its transient,radiant glory; …the sun shining through a strategically positioned gap in a cloud to illuminate a fairytale land ” and then “only to disappear into vapour and rain”

Much of the time in Scotland we have overcast days. Early morning or when the sun breaks through the rain we make a virtue of highland mist. The combination of light and mist is perfect:  in many ways it compliments our ideal of the Scottish highlands – scots mist.

I also love this painting of Peter Graham’s to be found in the McManus Gallery in Dundee, which is a fine depiction of scots mist. Even today you can still come into contact with Highland Cattle in a remote glen ( I have – Glen Tilt springs to mind).

Peter Graham went in search of scenes like these.  We go to the mountains and moors of Scotland today still looking for them. Thankfully  you can still find this ideal in Scotland. And some of us are looking to photograph it the way 19th century artists like Peter Graham would have if he had a camera as well as a paint brush.

Three highland cattle in the foreground, with the rest of the herd receding into the mist in a general scottish mountain moorland scene

Moorland and Mist by Peter Graham is in the McManus Gallery in Dundee and when viewed in its full size you feel you could walk right into it. Reproduced with permission:Dundee Art Galleries and Museum

About photographicviewscotland

Photographers of Scotland's landscape and remote places and arts and craft makers. Mhairi is also making needle felted animals under the name of the Woof in the Wool. We live in Abernethy in Perthshire, Scotland.
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