National Museum of Rural Life


Guest post by Fiona Salvesen Murrell, PhD Candidate, History of Art, University of Aberdeen

Fiona Salvesen Murrell is studying William Shiels, R.S.A. (1783-1857); identity, scientific enquiry, and the development of art institutions in Britain and North America.  In three parts she tells us about the work of William Shiels and the collection held at National Museums Scotland. In part 1 Fiona looks at how she came to start researching William Shiels. In part 2 find out about the artist and his work and in part 3 discover the surviving works . Visit the National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride to see some of Shiels’s paintings for yourself.

At home and overseas

The range of animals depicted by Shiels encompasses both British and foreign livestock. Sixteen examples of the latter were included as Professor David Low [1],  who commissioned the paintings, felt these animals might be of use in bringing beneficial qualities to the native breeds.

William Shiels, Old English Black Horse, ‘Old Blacklegs’ . This horse was bred by Mr Broomes at Ormiston, Derby. Low described; ‘Old Blacklegs’ as ‘living in 1834, and then 36 years old; [he was] descended in a direct line from Bakewell's 'Black Horse', the ancestor of many of the finest of the old dray-horses of London. This race of heavy horses is reared extensively in the midland counties, from Lincolnshire to Staffordshire. The individuals are usually of great strength, but without corresponding action.

William Shiels, Old English Black Horse, ‘Old Blacklegs’, 1834. Old Blacklegs was bred by Mr Broomes at Ormiston, Derby. Low described; ‘Old Blacklegs’ as ‘living in 1834, and then 36 years old; [he was] descended in a direct line from Bakewell’s ‘Black Horse’, the ancestor of many of the finest of the old dray-horses of London. This race of heavy horses is reared extensively in the midland counties, from Lincolnshire to Staffordshire. The individuals are usually of great strength, but without corresponding action.’

Many of the portraits of non-domestic breeds do not survive – such as the Duke of Buccleuch’s American Bison, or the Spanish and Portugese Cattle, or Indian Bull and Cow; however the Chinese Goats and Arabian Stallion are in National Museums Scotland’s collection.

William Shiels, The Arabian Stallion, 1839-41. Photographed by FVS Murrell.  This horse was taken in a skirmish with an Arab tribe and imported into Britain by Sir John McNeill, G.C.B., British Minister at the Court of Persia. This is one of the pictures remaining on its stretcher.

William Shiels, The Arabian Stallion, 1839-41. Photographed by FVS Murrell. The Arabian Stallion was taken in a skirmish with an Arab tribe and imported into Britain by Sir John McNeill, G.C.B., British Minister at the Court of Persia. This is one of the pictures remaining on its original stretcher, awaiting conservation.

Domestic animals

Low’s writings and fifty-six of Shiels’ paintings were published in two luxurious volumes in 1842: The Breeds of the Domestic Animals of the British Islands. Shiels’ paintings had been copied by William Nicholson [2],  in reduced watercolour versions so that Thomas Fairland [3] could create the hand-coloured lithographic plates in the book. The plates were accompanied by lengthy text on each breed under divisions of type: Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Hogs, and Goats.

William Shiels, Group of Scotch Dogs (detail), Collie from Tweedale, Scotch Deerhound, Otter Terrier, and Scots Terrier, 1842-43. Shiels was paid £20 for this painting on 22 April 1843.

William Shiels, Group of Scotch Dogs (detail), featuring Scotch Deerhound, 1842-43, photographed by FVS Murrell. On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride. Shiels was paid £20 for this painting on 22 April 1843.

The French Government was so impressed with the book that they immediately ordered it to be translated into French. It was re-issued in Britain in 1845, in a much smaller edition, without the colour plates, and with the added title With Observations on the Principles and Practise of Breeding, it was further revised and reissued in 1853.

The Museum of Agriculture and the livestock portrait collection

The Museum of Agriculture was unfortunately housed in dark and damp basement rooms in the Old College of the University of Edinburgh, on the corner of Chambers Street and West College Street. The collections, which included a vast array of models of agricultural implements, machinery, and farm buildings; soil, plant, seed specimens and so on, all suffered as a result, even whilst Shiels was still working on completing the commission.  As the University was struggling for funds, the paintings and other items deteriorated quite severely.

William Shiels, Connemara Gelding (detail), 1839-41, photographed by FVS Murrell. The pony was property of John Bindon Scott, of Cahireon, Galway, in the collection of National Museums Scotland.

William Shiels, Connemara Gelding (detail), 1839-41, photographed by FVS Murrell. The pony was property of John Bindon Scott, of Cahireon, Galway.

In the late 1960s, thirty-five of the remaining pictures were transferred to National Museums Scotland and during the 1980s and 1990s twelve were conserved. The University retains six paintings and nearly all the rest have disappeared. At some point prior to the collection coming to National Museums Scotland, someone cut many pictures off their stretchers and did this in a way which damaged a number severely, so some portraits are missing tips of the animal’s face or backside and some were cut in half, thus it is a difficult, but not impossible, job to repair and conserve them.

William Shiels, Neaplolitan Boar and Sow, 1833-1838, photographed by FVS Murrell.  Boar, the property of Earl Spencer,  was imported by the Hon. Captain Spencer from Naples; the sow, two years old was bred by the Earl of Leicester from imported stock. The Agricultural museum catalogue label remains affixed to the canvas of this yet to be conserved painting. The breed was first imported by Lord Western (1767-1844) of Rivenhall, Essex; they were remarkable for the flavour of their meat and ability to fatten on the smallest quantity of food.

William Shiels, Neapolitan Boar and Sow, 1833-1838, photographed by FVS Murrell. The Neapolitan Boar was the property of Earl Spencer, was imported by the Hon. Captain Spencer from Naples; the sow, two years old was bred by the Earl of Leicester from imported stock. The Agricultural museum catalogue label remains affixed to the canvas of this yet to be conserved painting. The breed was first imported by Lord Western (1767-1844) of Rivenhall, Essex; they were remarkable for the flavour of their meat and ability to fatten on the smallest quantity of food.


[1] David Low (17 86-1859) Professor of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh

[2] William Nicholson (1781 – 1844) A founder member of the Roya lScottishAcademy and served as its first Secretary between 1826 and 1830. He exhibited every year at the Royal ScottishAcademy from 1827 until his death, showing landscapes and fancy subjects as well as portraits.

[3] Thomas Fairland (1804 –1852) was an English lithographer, engraver and portrait painter

Guest post by Fiona Salvesen Murrell, PhD Candidate, History of Art, University of Aberdeen

Fiona Salvesen Murrell is studying William Shiels, R.S.A. (1783-1857); identity, scientific enquiry, and the development of art institutions in Britain and North America.   In three parts she tells us about the work of William Shiels and the collection held at National Museums Scotland. In part 1 Fiona looks at how she came to start researching William Shiels. In part 2 find out about the artist and his work and in part 3 discover the surviving works . Visit  National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride to see some of Shiels’s paintings for yourself.

The artist

William Shiels is an intriguing figure. Having trained initially in Edinburgh and then London, he worked in both cities and his home region of around Kelso for most of the rest of his life. However he made a radical change by emigrating to the United States in 1817, where he remained until c.1825. In 1821 he co-founded and directed the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts in Charleston, South Carolina. On his return he was founder member the Royal Scottish Academy (1826 onwards).

In 1832 David Low [1]  commissioned Shiels to begin painting a series of livestock portraits for the Agricultural Museum he was founding within the University. The commission eventually encompassed just over 100 paintings and the last ones were completed in 1844.

Fife Cow, 1833-38 , 6 years old, property of Mr B. Ferney of Kilmux, bred by Mr Anderson, Kinglassie.

Fife Cow, 1833-38 , 6 years old, property of Mr B. Ferney of Kilmux, bred by Mr Anderson, Kinglassie. On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

So many animal portraits

What is exceptional about the commission is that the paintings were all made on a scale of life-size for the sheep, pigs, goats, and dogs, and half life-size for the horses and cattle, all depicted with scientific accuracy. This was highly unusual, especially when one considers just how many portraits ended up being painted – which was at least one hundred. Shiels was paid between £10.50 and £30 per portrait depending on how many animals were portrayed – the West Highland Ponies, below, for instance, cost £30.

William Shiels, West Highland Ponies; the ponies were from Eriskay, Mull, and Uist. On display at the National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

William Shiels, West Highland Ponies; the ponies were from Eriskay, Mull, and Uist. On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

He was paid partly from a Treasury grant that Low obtained for the Museum of Agriculture, partly out of the Reid Fund from the University, but mostly by Low directly out of his own private income.

The paintings record many breeds which have since changed, or even become extinct. Low advocated retaining the diversity of the different breeds because he believed (correctly) that qualities such as hardiness could be lost by the trend in crossing different animals and breeds that was very prevalent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Shortly after the paintings were made advances in photography made this type of portraiture unnecessary; however that only increases the historical importance of these works.

William Shiels, Siamese Sow and Piglets, 1832-38

William Shiels, Siamese Sow and Piglets, 1832-38. The three year old sow was imported from Singapore by Messrs.’ Dugdale of Manchester. Her litter, exhibiting a great variety of coat pattern, was sired by a half-bred Chinese boar.  Shiels also included a thatched barn, farmhouse, wheelbarrow, and landscape beyond.

Painting method used by Shiels

Each portrait was painted directly from life and thus far none of Shiels’ sketches have come to light. Shiels described setting up his canvas and oil paints wherever he found the animal – be that on the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, the Channel Islands, the Welsh mountains, Norfolk, or even in London Zoo. He then made a detailed portrait of the animal(s) and sketched the landscape which was completed later – sometimes within Low’s classroom at the University.

Earlier writers had thought that Low had instructed Shiels which animals to depict – but it is now apparent that Shiels was an expert judge of livestock, having had an agricultural background from birth in the Scottish Borders, and selected several, if not most of the subjects to paint.

Orkney Ram, Ewe, Cheviot-cross lamb, 1837.  Ram from the Isle of Enhallow, Ewe from the Isle of Roussay, bred by Mr Traill of Woodwick; lamb is a cross with the pure Cheviot.  On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

William Sheils, Orkney Ram, Ewe, Cheviot-cross lamb, 1837.  On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride. Ram from the Isle of Enhallow, Ewe from the Isle of Roussay, bred by Mr Traill of Woodwick; lamb is a cross with the pure Cheviot.


[1] David Low (17 86-1859) Professor of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh

Guest post by Fiona Salvesen Murrell, PhD Candidate, History of Art, University of Aberdeen

Fiona Salvesen Murrell is studying William Shiels, R.S.A. (1783-1857); identity, scientific enquiry, and the development of art institutions in Britain and North America.  In three parts she tells us about the work of William Shiels and the collection held at National Museums Scotland. In part 1 Fiona looks at how she came to start researching William Shiels. In part 2 find out about the artist and his work and in part 3 discover the surviving works . Visit National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride to see some of Shiels’s paintings for yourself.

Important livestock

National Museums Scotland holds a highly important collection of thirty-five livestock portraits by William Shiels Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) (1783-1857). [1]. They came to National Museums Scotland in the late 1960s from the University of Edinburgh, who retain six further animal portraits in their collection. The paintings were originally the star attraction of the Museum of Agriculture formed at the University of Edinburgh from 1832 by the Professor of Agriculture, David Low [2].

Cheviot Ewe and lamb, 1832-1838, bred by Mr Thomson Attonburn, Roxburghshire

William Shiels, Cheviot Ewe and lamb, 1832-1838, bred by Mr Thomson Attonburn, Roxburghshire. On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

My time at National Museums Scotland

I worked at National Museums Scotland as a Curator for two and half years until December 1998. My background was in Art History and through Hugh Cheape (then Curator of Scottish Material Culture) I became aware of the thirty-five animal paintings by William Shiels which were then in store. Hugh had done some work on the paintings but he felt they were under-researched and potentially very important. National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust awarded me a grant to research the paintings for three months in 1999.

Shiels, Berkshire Pig, 1832-38, bred by Mr Loud, Mackstockmill, Warwickshire. Only the white socks and tassel tail remain in today’s version of this breed.

William Shiels, Berkshire Pig, 1832-38, bred by Mr Loud, Mackstockmill, Warwickshire. Only the white socks and tassel tail remain in today’s version of this breed. On display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride.

During that time I began researching the history of paintings and why they were commissioned, where they were housed and what had happened to them. The archives of the University, Town Council of Edinburgh, RSA and National Archives of Scotland have proved invaluable in not only revealing much about the paintings but also the social and cultural context in which they were produced.

William Shiels, A Shorthorn Bull, ‘Romulus’, c.1833-8 on display at National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride. Romulus was bred by Mr Smith, Shedlaw, Roxburghshire. Note the basket of turnips in the bottom right corner, which demonstrates the improved feed given to the cattle.

Further afield

After my contract finished at National Museums Scotland, I then worked in several museums and galleries in England as a Curator of Art. After doing research in the United States, thanks to a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship in 2006, I decided to take my earlier work on Shiels further and commenced my PhD at the University of Aberdeen. Since late 2007 I have had a very fascinating journey into the politics, social life, and museum and art world of the early to mid-19th century.

 


[1] Three copies made for the owners of the animals by William Shiels are in National Museums Wales.

[2] David Low (17 86-1859) Professor of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh.

Gillian McNeeBy Gillian McNee, Learning Enabler

Every Wednesday morning at 10am a roll of thunder can be heard at the entrance of the National Museum of Scotland… or so you would think.  It’s actually 15 buggies, mums, dads, toddlers in a hurry, descending on the Museum for a morning on the magic carpet. The new under 5s programme has become so popular we now call the rush to sign up for spaces the “great buggy dash!”

After the transformation of the National Museum of Scotland, with the addition of the Imagine and Adventure Planet interactive galleries, designed specifically for younger visitors, there was an opportunity to develop new activities that would extend the ethos of popular galleries into our public programmes. The aim was to create an engaging experience for little ones where they could explore the Museum further, and the idea of a magic carpet came alive.

Captain Fiona Campbell tells a story

Captain Fiona Campbell tells a story.

The Magic Carpet sessions introduce little ones to different things in the Museum. Each week the carpet and its little explorers visit somewhere new, with stories, singing, crafts and object handling. Our trips on the carpet include visiting the stars in the Earth in Space gallery to see all the animal constellations, exploring the jungle of the Animal World gallery where we’ve boogied with the animals, and going fishing in the Arctic winter in the Living Lands gallery.

The magic carpet in the Living Lands gallery

The magic carpet in the Living Lands gallery.

The carpet has had special guest appearances too, including professional storyteller Mara Menzies. Mara runs her own company, Toto Tales, which brings African stories to life, and she took our magic carpet on an adventure through Africa, with Koko the crocodile. Another special guest was Cuddles the pygmy hedgehog, who was brought along by Visitor Services Assistant Laura Moss for a springtime special all about woodland animals, where the children explored the history of the forests in the Beginnings gallery.

Enabler Anna Downie adds some sparkle at a craft session

Enabler Anna Downie adds some sparkle at a craft session on the magic carpet.

The magic carpet sometimes gets out and about, away from its home at Chambers Street. It recently flew to East Kilbride to the National Museum of Rural Life for some storytelling at the Classic Car show. For training, it visited Sanderson’s Wynd Primary in Tranent, where the P2 class went on a journey from Scotland through Europe, stopping off and handling objects from each country along the way, with the final destination being Spain, the class’s topic. They then performed a Flamenco dance inspired by their adventure on the carpet.

It is also being used as inspiration for a community engagement project led by Community Engagement Officer Jane Miller. Three family learning groups, Gracemount, Broomhouse, and the Royal Mile, have all taken part in magic carpet sessions in the museum. They are now each creating a fabric square with their favourite object from the Museum on it, which will then be put together to make their own magic carpet. The nursery children and their parents have been working jointly on this project, enhancing learning together. The finished carpet will be complete with objects and a user book, full of songs and activities that can be used with the carpet. Groups will be able to borrow the carpet and resources for their own use. The adults and children have been really enjoying the process of making their own magic carpet. One mum says the only challenge has been that her wee boy was inspired by so many objects in the museum that she had to limit what he could have on his square, as it had to match with what she could actually sew!

Making a magic carpet with the family learning groups

Making a magic carpet with the family learning groups.

September will see the launch of Magic Carpet Minis. So far the Magic Carpet sessions have been piloted for little ones under the age of 5.  After the summer, two different sessions will be run – one geared towards 2-5 year olds and one for 0-2 year olds. This means the activities will be more tailored for each age group and parents/guardians can decide which one they and their children will get the most from. So keep an eye out for new adventures on the magic carpet!

Up up up as we go flying on the magic carpet

Up up up as we go flying on the magic carpet!

For more information on family activities in the Museum visit www.nms.ac.uk/families

Catch up with Ritchie Young, Farm Manager, National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride

We caught up with Ritchie Young, who has recently joined National Museum of Rural Life, about the spring activity and new arrivals at Wester Kittochside farm.  Ritchie is responsible for the day-to-day management of the farm at Wester Kittochside, caring for the rare breeds livestock and crop cultivation as it was in the 1950s.

How many calves have been born so far this season and what are their names?

Six calves been born so far, Candy’s Elegance the girl and Harry, Henry, James, Boab and Tom Launce the boys. The purebred calves get names from their mother, Candy, a supreme Ayrshire champion – Candy’s Elegance’s mother. Maggie MacDougall, our Stockperson, just picks the rest of the names. Tom Launce was named after a couple of wee boys who were in when the calf was born, James is named after my wee boy and Boab was named after my James (my son) saw the calf and said ‘Boab, Boab’ so it came from that.

James the Ayrshire calf

How do you know when a calf is on the way?

When the cow is calving, the udder will fill up with milk a day or two before the calf is due. When she goes into labour she will show signs of discomfort, getting up and lying down, swishing her tail, groaning and generally unsettled. When the onset of labour comes on she will start pressing (pushing).

Tom the calf

Tom the Ayrshire calf.

Once they are in labour you just basically observe them. If they have been active for a while you may have to check the orientation of the calf to make sure that it is the right way around. If it’s not, it won’t come out naturally and then we will have to intervene. If there is a major problem, we call the vet in. For instance, the first cow that calved had hypocalcaemia (lack of calcium) so we had to get the vet in then. Giving birth involves a lot of effort, and the cow produces a lot of milk, which can cause them to have a dip in their calcium levels.

Expectant Ayrshire cows

Expectant Ayrshire cows at the farm.

We check on them regularly and look out for any signs of distress and give assistance to get the calf out – basically pull the calf out. Once the calf is born you give it a rub to clear the airways and make sure it’s breathing. If the calf is okay you dip its belly button and umbilical cord in iodine which dries it up and seals off any infection. The calves get their ear tags within the first 24 hours and Maggie or I make sure that they get enough colostrum (vitamins) to help them fight off infection and provide sufficient antibodies. They get that in the first six hours to receive the maximum effect.

The calves will be kept inside the barn until April and then housed depending on the weather. They are fed on milk for eight to ten weeks and once they are off the milk they are released into a small paddock. Six cows are still waiting to have calves, one in the next few days, one within the next ten days and the rest are due to arrive in April.

What other new arrivals can we expect this spring?

We’ve scanned all the ewes and there are 135 lambs due. We also have six Aberdeen Angus cows due with calves at the beginning of May and expect to see some new Tamworth piglets by May as well.

Ritchie Young, Farm Manager and Mhairi the Clydesdale

Ritchie Young, Farm Manager and Mhairi the Clydesdale

What else do you do on the farm on a day to day basis?

A lot of my time is office based until now. Maggie is in control of stock planning, fertilising and lambing so will be busy. There are lot of projects on the go and we are currently getting a new building for general storage so we can buy in bedding and save costs on cattle feed by bulk storing. At the moment we buy it in small bags which use plastic so by buying in bulk we are using less plastic which is better for the environment, and for recycling.

What crops do you plant on the farm?

Oats, potatoes and wheat are the crops we mainly grow. We keep the animals out of the field to minimise crop damage and have a scarecrow to chase the birds away or just create a disturbance. I don’t see myself chasing birds down the fields however…

How have you found your first six months on the farm?

It’s been different, a steep learning curve and the curve has not ended yet. There’s a lot more to learn and think about as Farm Manager at National Museum of Rural Life than on a normal working farm.

By Bryce Kershaw, Projects Officer – Museums, Wanneroo, Australia

Before Christmas last year, in a moment of synchronicity, a holidaying couple from Scotland were driving by Buckingham House here in Wanneroo in Western Australia, noticed that the gate was open and decided to wander in for a look.

Buckingham House, the family house of a former dairy property built c.1880 and now a museum, on this day was in fact not open to the public but being cleaned prior to the shut down period of the Christmas school holidays.

Buckingham House

Buckingham House.

As they had come so far we felt it would be churlish to eject our lovely Scottish visitors and proceeded to show them around and entered into a lengthy chat. This included that they lived in East Kilbride near the National Museum of Rural Life and somehow, onto a discussion on the wonderful milkable model cow that is such a big hit with the kids in Scotland.

What a brilliant idea I thought, and having finished the cleaning, rushed back to the office to dash off an email to National Museums Scotland to ask them about this fabled model. Much to my great pleasure only a day or two later, I received an email and images from Duncan Dornan, General Manager of the National Museum of Rural Life. Based on this and other input from the dairy industry here, we designed and eventually built the pictured cow (named Ophelia) now living at Buckingham House.

Ophelia the cow

Ophelia with Bryce and Barbara, Curatorial Assistant at Buckingham House.

Ophelia the model cow

Ophelia the model cow.

Chris WaddellBy Chris Waddell, Learning Officer

The National Museum of Rural Life’s  Country Fair promises to be a great family day out. Most of us will have seen farriery or sheep dog trials on television but on Sunday 28 August 2011, visitors can experience these things first hand – and a whole lot more – at Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

Many other facets of country life will be on display, including a spinning demonstration by renowned Ayrshire fabric worker Liz Brown, or watch Richard Love – a drystane dyker – in action as he works on the repair of an ancient wall at the farm.

Sheepdog herding at the National Museum of Rural Life, Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

A reminder of school days gone by will be in evidence with our Old Fashioned Games sessions in the Buchan’s field. Budding Olympians can take part in sack racing and welly throwing, or try their hand at quoits – an ancient game of skill and pre-cursor to the game of hoop-la!

Farriery demonstration at the National Museum of Rural Life, Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

Meanwhile, foodies and foragers can sample a taste of Scotland’s countryside and pick up some recipe tips at Ms. Claire Bird’s wild food stand. Slow Food Scotland will also be present, providing taste tests and visitors can see an apple press in action at the Waulkmill Juice Company’s stand.

Home made preserves at the National Museum of Rural Life

Home made preserves at the National Museum of Rural Life.

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